Author: Charlie Lovett

Publisher: Penguin Books

ISBN: 978-0-14-312538-9

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett tells the story of Peter Byerly a recently widowed American antiquarian bookseller who, if it hadn’t been for his wife Amanda, would have been virtually invisible and quite content with it. The novel begins when Peter opens an eighteenth century book on forgeries in Hay-on-Wye, England where he has gone to pull himself together after the death of his wife. In the book he finds an equally old watercolour but of his dead wife. To verify the identity of the woman Peter begins by trying to name the elusive artist who simply goes by the initials B.B. His investigation, however, leads him to an even greater mystery when he comes across a copy of the Pandosto by Robert Greene with marginalia that may have been written by Shakespeare. If this copy of the Pandosto and the marginalia prove to be authentic, it could become the greatest find in English literature and prove beyond any doubt that Shakespeare was indeed the author of his works.

The Bookman’s Tale follows three plot lines. Peter in the present, trying to overcome his grief and find the answers to the mystery of the watercolour and the Pandosto; Peter in the past, a passive character, learning the trade of restoring books and their historic value and his relationship with Amanda; and the history of the Pandosto told through the lives and perspectives of all its owners through the centuries. There is mystery in The Bookman’s Tale but the novel is really about Peter and what amounts to his own personal journey to push himself beyond the limits of his grief and more importantly his social limitations while finding the holy grail of literature—proof that Shakespeare authored his works.

For most of the novel, the historical sections were more intriguing than Peter’s plot lines. There was life, energy, and interesting characters/situations in the historical sections. Identifying with Peter and sympathizing with him was difficult until the last third when he starts to take matters into his own hands and push himself beyond his comfort zone. At that point I found myself applauding Peter and glad that he was shaking off his grief and coming out of his shell.

The Bookman’s Tale is an interesting and fast read, which brings attention to forgeries in the world of literature as real, cut-throat, and exacting as those in the more glamorous world of art.

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