Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookmans TaleThe Bookman’s Tale is one of those novels that begins at a deceptively slow pace, building its momentum as the plot is revealed. It begins in the 1990s, as antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is trying to overcome the shock of losing his young wife. In an attempt to regain some sense of normality he ventures into a bookshop, and discovers an unusual Victorian painting hidden between the pages of a book – a portrait which looks remarkably similar to his late wife. As he attempts to uncover the secrets of this mystery painting, the plot thickens, and we are transported back through the centuries to an incredible book, a family feud and finally to the master storyteller – Shakespeare himself.   

It did take some time for me to get into this book but, once hooked, I couldn’t put it down. There is a lot of detail about bookbinding and sixteenth century manuscripts, but it all combines into an incredibly fascinating plot that becomes something reminiscent of a Famous Five story for antiquarian book lovers, complete with old manor houses and secret hiding places.

The story flits between the 1990s and the 1980s, as the development of Peter’s relationship with Amanda is revealed, whilst other chapters dive back through time, as we follow the history of this one particular book (the Pandosto) which could be the final proof that Shakespeare was indeed the author of his plays.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the protagonist, Peter Byerly, but his character is revealed gradually as the narrative progresses, and although Amanda seems a little too perfect and their relationship perhaps a little too blissful, the complex plot and historical connections make this a fascinating read.

The book is fictional, but has been based upon historical facts, resurrecting real Elizabethan writers, and book collectors from Britain’s past. This adds an element of realism to the story, but some passages felt more like excerpts from a history book, as if they were rushed over, placed there merely to give the reader some context for the main narrative. The tale of the Pandosto is followed from Robert Greene and Shakespeare in the 1590s, through four centuries, all the way to the 1990s.

If you like old books and historical mysteries, then you’ll certainly enjoy reading this book. It’s carefully crafted and full of surprises; an intriguing tale.

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