A few months ago, I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Bookman’s Tale through a First Reads Giveaway on Goodreads. While they did give me the book, I am not being compensated for my review — these thoughts are completely my own.
I was a bit skeptical about The Bookman’s Tale at first, because the description focuses on communications with spirits and preoccupation with a watercolor of the protagonist’s late wife. Furthermore, the tagline, “A Novel of Obsession” is a bit foreboding — to what kind of “obsession” is Lovett referring?
My classmate and coworker Alexandra gave the book a fantastic review, which prompted me to enter the giveaway, but based on the description alone, I would never have purchased it. Thus, it’s a good thing that I won that giveaway, because I ended up loving this novel.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I would like to point out that while The Bookman’s Tale addresses all of the points alluded to in its description, they are by no means its focus. Yes, there are some unexpected conversations with the dead, and yes, a watercolor pushes the plot into motion, but I don’t think that those are accurate highlights.
Lovett’s novel visits many threads of the same story across time and space, sharing insight into the historical Shakespeare and into the life of Peter Byerly, a bookseller and antiquarian. Within its pages are a tremendous love story and a man’s rediscovery of himself without his partner in life.
While the story in these pages is magnificent, it’s worth noting that Lovett’s writing on its own is exquisite. At once narrative and introspective, it is also informative and encapsulates necessary history. It provides insight into the personal without entering into the rabbit hole of stream-of-consciousness writing, which would have been an easy feat given the subject matter.
I’m hesitant to write more, because I want anyone reading this to go out and pick up a copy of The Bookman’s Tale. Based on the story and the writing alone, I give this novel five stars. A note to the publisher, though: think about revising that description!