Monday, January 4, 2016

A bookman's adventures

For most of us who love books, just going to a good bookshop seems like an adventure. So Charlie Lovett's 2013 novel The Bookman's Tale seems a bit over the top. There's a murder, a chase, an escape through a dark underground passage and not one but two love stories, all involving a seriously introverted young man who is just passionate about books.

The big mystery in the story is not who the murderer may be but whether a book Peter Byerly finds while booking in England is the real thing or a forgery. If it's real, it could be the literary holy grail, the evidence that proves William Shakespeare really was William Shakespeare, the man who wrote all those plays and sonnets. There has long been some question about this. Some authorities argue Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Christopher Marlowe or someone else actually did the writing.

One of Shakespeare's plays was based on a story contained in a book called Pandosto written by a man named Robert Greene. Peter finds an old copy with a list of men who once owned the book. One of those owners was a "Wm. Shakspere, Stratford." But over the centuries there have been some pretty good forgers who preyed on those naive souls who sought to obtain seemingly valuable books for a modest price. Could this be such an imitation?

Lovett tells his story alternately through three periods. One is the present day, actually 1995, when Peter discovers the mysterious book and has his adventures. Another is a decade earlier when he meets and marries Amanda, a wealthy young woman who later dies. The third thread goes back centuries, tracing the lives of others connected with Greene's book.

The novel provides a few hours of fun, but it fails to be entirely satisfying. Lovett leaves questions unanswered and relies too much on coincidence and happenstance. I wanted to believe it, but couldn't.

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