‘The Bookman’s Tale’ by Charlie Lovett
For the book lover, is there any better genre than the bookish mystery? This beautiful creation usually involves antiquarian books, some sort of literary criminal activity (foiled, of course, by our hero/heroine!), and general bookish nerdom.
It’s a marvelous, albeit tricky, genre to pull off, but still one of my favorites. Somehow, the tantalizing promise of potential bibliphilic adventures always lure me in — even when the actual execution proves disappointing (as with Ross King’s Ex-Libris and certain supernatural aspects of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas).
Sometimes, though, the stories are exceptional and bookish mysteries prove to be simultaneously the most fun and most intelligent novels out there. They rise to Umberto Eco’s praise for The Club Dumas: they’re beach books for intellectuals, somehow being fun and entertaining while also displaying dizzying smarts.
Charlie Lovett’s inaugural novel, The Bookman’s Tale is one of the most recent entrants into this challenging and potentially rewarding genre. With a slow start that seems mired in mundane “day in the life of so-and-so” recitation, The Bookman’s Tale rewards patience and readerly loyalty when, without any prior sign of the great things to come, the narrative skyrockets off to surprising and excellent heights of storytelling.
I’m not going to tell you this is the Next Great Novel of the Century or anything, but, man, is it a good read! Lovett sets himself on a difficult path with no less than three different time periods/narrative threads to juggle (notably, A.S. Byatt had just two in her masterful bookish mystery Possession) and topics as disparate as the Stratfordians vs. the Oxfordians, contemporary love and loss/mourning, the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and the rare book trade. It’s a lot and, for the first quarter of the book, I was not at all certain Lovett was going to pull it off.
But, as mentioned above, The Bookman’s Tale dearly rewards a reader’s trust and patience as it unfurls its amazingly well-plotted and twisting tale. By the final chapters, I was sprinting to see what unexpected revelations Lovett would provide next. And by the end itself, I quietly shut the book and sat in a slightly stunned coma of readerly contentment. He did it! was all I kept thinking. Somehow, Lovett did pull it off.
The Bookman’s Tale is a great read for anyone who, like me, has long searched for something both bookish and fun, mysterious but not occult, and intelligent yet not quite Ecoian. I enjoyed this one far more than I ever expected to and recommend that you do the same!