For those who have yearned for another “book-porn” novel since the publication of A.S. Byatt’s Possession in 1990, the wait is over. Charlie Lovett’s debut novel The Bookman’s Tale (A Novel of Obsession) is perfect for people who get high off the dust of old books. The subtitle and jacket art cry out “guilty pleasure!” and it’s not an inaccurate description. Peter Byerly is an antiquarian bookseller struggling to deal with the recent death of his wife Amanda. A Victorian portrait of a woman stuck in the pages of an old book he finds in a bookshop in Wales could be — impossibly — a portrait of his late wife. His search to find the provenance of the portrait leads him ultimately to the “holy grail” of English Literature — proof that William Shak(e)speare of Stratford was indeed the Bard.
If the mythology of the Catholic Church is the link to the success of the novels of Dan Brown, the true identity of Shakespeare is the amphetamine that fuels novels like The Bookman’s Tale. While you’ll have to endure sex scenes on the floors of rare book rooms, murder, sentences like “while making love to an ideal woman was fantastic, making love to a real woman was even better,” and the suspension of disbelief over some very creative genealogy, in the end Lovett’s literally page-turning story — bolstered by fascinating descriptions of book restoration — make this novel more pleasure than guilt.