The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, Text Publishing, ISBN 9781922079336, RRP $37, Available 26 June.
Billed as “a novel of obsession” and “a tale for book lovers”, The Bookman’s Tale should be a delight for anyone who loves history, books and good writing.
I say “should”, because sadly it’s not.
Insert REALLY SAD FACE here.
The Bookman’s Tale followers Peter Byerly, antiquarian bookseller who’s deeply mired in grief for his late wife, Amanda. Peter opens a book in a musty bookshop, only to discover a watercolour miniature bearing a startling resemblance to his late wife. From there we’re on a murder mystery journey that takes in Shakespeare (and the old “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare” conspiracy), book forgery, Victorian art and a really, really idealised woman.
Here’s my list of things what I wished weren’t part of this book:
- Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. Shakespeare at all. The Shakespearean age passages in particular have no air of authenticity. Instead they read like an Elizabethan name-dropper. Oh look there’s young upstart Shakespeare! There’s Robert Cotton! There’s Christopher Marlowe! And they’re all drinking ale and whoring and writing and almost saying “fie”.¹ Also: sonnets! Hilarious! It’s all way too obviously winky-winky, history comes together, for me to enjoy. Bah.
- Murder mystery. The butler did it in the kitchen with the candlestick. Or not, but you’ll feel like that at the end, everything is just so nicely wrapped up. And so conveniently it feels like the ending to an hour mystery drama. Bah.
- Idealised woman. Maybe I am heartless and unromantic but Amanda (dead wife) is only seen through Peter (on account of the deadness) and in her eyes she is the most beautiful, most angelic, most sexy, most intelligent, most rich woman you’ll ever meet. And not in the least oiky, irritating and privileged. She hangs on his every word, loves it when he watches her from afar for weeks in a library and she has monogrammed stationery. At college, in the ’80s she wears:
…in place of the unofficial uniform of jeans and a T-shirt, an impeccably tailored black suit, with pleated trousers and a crisp white blouse.
No, not irritating at all.
Sigh. I think lots of people will like The Bookman’s Tale, especially if they don’t think too hard about it. Unfortunately I found it too trite and too convenient.
¹Bugger. Just found this:
Fie on you, then fie.