Summary (From Goodreads.com)
A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love
Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt’s Possession.
Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.
Author: Charlie Lovett
Length: 368 pages
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Publication Date: 31st July 2013, by Alma
Peter Byerly has always been an anxious, shy young man. His late wife Amanda bought him out of his shell, and made him feel comfortable in a way no one else ever had. Nine months after her death, he finally forces himself into a bookshop, hoping to reignite his career as an antiquarian bookseller. Whilst there, he finds a watercolour portrait tucked into one of the books – a portrait of Amanda. A Victorian painting, Peter knows the portrait can’t possibly be of his Amanda, yet his curiosity drives him to find out more. As he discovers more about the portrait, he is drawn into a web of lies, secrets and forgeries, a web which may just be hiding the truth about Shakespeare’s identity.
A bit like The Da Vinci Code for bibliophiles, The Bookman’s Tale is predominantly a mystery. At first, it is all about the painting: who is the woman who looks so like Amanda? Who painted the portrait? Why did they tuck it inside a book instead of displaying it? As more is revealed about the painting, you’ll end up with more and more questions, as the stakes continue to grow.
Although a mystery, there is also a lot of romance in The Bookman’s Tale. Despite Amanda’s death before the start of the book, we get to meet her through both flashbacks and in a spiritual, almost ghostlike form. These appearances slowly reveal more about the start of Amanda and Peter’s relationship, as well as their lives together. There are heart-warming moments that will make you smile, moments that will shock you, and some heartbreaking moments that may just make you cry.
It took me a day or so to get into The Bookman’s Tale, and I personally found that it was a book I wanted to savour rather than devour. After a few days of savouring though, I couldn’t resist staying up until the early hours of the morning finishing it!
Lovett’s characters are excellently developed, and I couldn’t help but find something to like in each of them. Peter, whilst socially awkward, is immensely likeable, and I imagine an awful lot of bibliophiles will see something of themselves in both his personality and his passion for books. Amanda is a kind, funny, self-assured woman; the sort of woman a lot of us would like to see ourselves as! Supportive and patient with Peter, she never pushes him too far, but manages to draw him out of his shell a little, at a pace that’s right for him.
Although I didn’t feel as much connection to the historical characters, they were all still likeable and believable. There were a lot of characters involved though, which sometimes made it hard to keep track, and may have explained the lack of connection. I personally much preferred reading about Peter’s relationship with Amanda and his own speculations on how the book in his hands had reached him. The flashbacks helped me to put the pieces together as a reader, but Peter’s speculation may have been enough alone (that was all he had to go on after all!). I do wonder whether the book could have got away with less time in the past, so that there wasn’t quite such a large cast to keep track of.
A novel about Peter’s loves and losses, this is truly a book written for book lovers. Even if you know nothing about the debate over Shakespeare’s work, Lovett manages to explain the debate without being long-winded or patronising. The background insight into both book restoration and forgeries was also absolutely fascinating stuff. All in all, The Bookman’s Tale is an expert blend of mystery and romance, with wonderfully developed characters and infused with Lovett’s clear love of books.
Buy it? I could easily see myself re-reading The Bookman’s Tale, so I’d probably be happy to buy it.
In a nutshell: A wonderful historical mystery set around excellent characters. One to be savoured and enjoyed!