Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Book 109: The Bookman's Tale

I haven't seen much buzz on this novel which surprises me because it was definitely one of the more enjoyable books I've read this year.  There are certainly a few I would rank above this so I'm not entirely sure if this would make my top 10 for the year, but I have a soft spot for novels about readers and people that love books so naturally, the title alone caught my attention.  It's interesting to me how given all the technology that is a part of life now, that all it takes is to set a novel ten to twenty years before the present day, and things that would be completely nonsensical today work again.  For example, it actually has to be explained now if characters can't get in touch with each other at any time.  However, place it in the '90s and practically no one had a cell phone so it doesn't even have to be acknowledged.
Peter is a relatively young bookseller in the mid '90s.  An American, he has recently moved to England following his beloved wife's death.  Always introverted, he has completely withdrawn from society after her death, but as the novel begins, Peter has finally convinced himself to visit an antique bookstore again, which soon leads to a bigger story.  At the store, he discovers a 19th century book which contains a Victorian water color portrait of a woman that looks just like his deceased wife.  This naturally makes him interested in discovering more about the artist.  An area resident also invites him to examine his private collection, and one of the books there may be a conclusive link to Shakespeare, thus proving him as the author of his plays once and for all.  These two separate pieces quickly converge, and Peter finds that there may be some danger in laying this old controversy to rest.
Intertwined with this main story line are two other narratives - one follows the book that Peter finds through time and its various owners, while the other is set in the 1980s and follows Peter through college.  At college he meets and discovers his two loves: Amanda and old books.  Though he was always a reader, it is only in the old and rare book section of the library that he discovers his love for old books and his interest in repairing them.
I loved the slow build up of the story and how it really develops Peter and Amanda as characters.  The world of bookbinding, book collecting and forgery is also well explained and interesting.  In fact, I was so happy with the pace of the novel, I was actually a little disappointed when it started turning into a murder mystery thriller, but it really an incredibly sweet novel - some of the characters are just a little bit quirky, and it is so easy to relate to their love and passion for books.  All three time lines held my interest, and I loved learning more about Peter and Amanda's relationship as the novel progressed because I certainly had questions about how Peter ended up in this small house in England on his own.  Basically, while I completely understand why this novel isn't making top 5 or even top 10 lists for the year because it just isn't quite there, I think it is absolutely one that most readers would love.  It just has that comforting feeling about it, and is very engaging.

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