Author: Charlie Lovett
Publication Date: May 2013
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
I am a huge sucker for a bookish hero. The Bookman’s Tale, including it’s protagonist Peter Byerly, is the perfect combination of a tentative, loving, bookish hero, literary scandal, and the violence that accompanies greed. This book delves into the world of literary forgeries, why they are created, how they are found, and the impact they have on the literary community. Really exciting stuff!
Peter is a quiet, shy, book-loving kind of guy. He’s socially awkward and has an anxiety disorder that for the early part of his life, goes untreated. His story is really alluring and admirable because he find his strength and his courage in his passion for the love of his life, Amanda, and for the many volumes that preserve our literary history. Watching his transformation from a timid, uncertain man, into someone who’s brave and in control added that heartfelt aspect to the story. He’s a hero that you want to see succeed, but you’re unsure if he has the capabilities to do so. Peter doesn’t disappoint.
His love for Amanda is touching, often to the point of being sappy. I took it in a very light-hearted way. It was sweet to see him find his perfect match, the two of them brought together by fate and a love for rare books. Sometimes their romance tended towards the sickly sweet and unrealistic end of the spectrum, but the story isn’t really about their romance. It’s about Peter’s inner transformation that this romance contributes to. Without this romance, Peter might not have made the discoveries he did, he may not have had the same successful career, and he may not have been able to act so confidently in times of crisis.
The story is structured to jump between three different worlds: 1995, the 1980s, and past (Shakespearean). I thought this was a nice touch. Not only do we see Peter’s personal story, we see the story of the Pandosto and how significant writers, book sellers, and book collectors through time are connected by a unifying passion to preserve literary history, but they are not except from the human emotions of greed, desire, anger, and jealousy. The story speaks to the ubiquity of literature and how books inspire people to act in the extreme in order to preserve what’s worth preserving, and to seek out the truth.
Overall, this was a very light and easy read. It didn’t have a huge amount of substance, but it was enjoyable. For any book nerds who love stories about the gritty, cut-throat world of crime and literary forgeries, this is a pretty good read for you. It’s about those books and those secrets that are worth killing for, and those people who dedicate their lives to uncovering those hidden truths buried by literary scandal.