Bookman's Tale (Lovett)

The Bookman's Tale 
Charlie Lovett, 2013
Viking Press
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780670026470



Summary
A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love

Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession.

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books.

But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.

As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1962
Where—Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
Education—Davidson College; M.F.A., Vermont
   College of Fine Arts
Awards—
Currently—lives in Winston-Salem, US, and Oxfordshire, England, UK


In his words:
I was born in Winston-Salem, NC in 1962 and grew up as the child of an English professor. We spent our summers in the rural North Carolina mountains, so I felt an early affinity for the countryside. I was educated at Summit School, Woodberry Forest School (Virginia), and Davidson College (NC) and in 1984 went into the antiquarian book business with my first wife, Stephanie. About the same time I began to seriously collect books and other materials relating to Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When I left the book business in the early 1990s, I continued to be a book collector, and now have a large (and growing) collection of rare (and not so rare) books and artifacts connected to Lewis Carroll and his world (my most recent major acquisition is Lewis Carroll’s own 1888 typewriter). I have written five books about Lewis Carroll and countless articles. I have served as the president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and as editor of the London based Lewis Carroll Review. I have lectured on Lewis Carroll in the US and Europe at places such as the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, UCLA, and Oxford University.

In 1997 I received my MFA in Writing from Vermont College (now Vermont College of Fine Arts). During my work on this degree I researched and wrote Love, Ruth, a book about my mother, Ruth Candler Lovett, who died when I was two years old. Maya Angelou called the book “tender, sensitive, and true.”

After completing my MFA, I traveled with my wife, Janice and daughter, Jordan, to England where we lived for six months. We immersed ourselves in the culture, made lifelong friends, and become closely connected to the village of Kingham, Oxfordshire. Ten years later, we purchased the cottage we had rented in 1997 and renovated it. My wife and I now spend about 6–8 week a year in Kingham, and have traveled extensively throughout the UK.

In 2001, my wife was hired to oversee the third grade drama program at Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC. Bemoaning the dearth of good material for elementary school performance, she asked if I would write a play. Thus began my career as a children’s playwright. In the ensuing years, as Writer-in-Residence at Summit, I have written plays for third graders and for eighth and ninth graders.

Fourteen of my plays have been published, including my first, Twinderella, which won the Shubert Fendrich Playwriting Award, beating over 750 other entries. The plays have proved extremely popular and have been seen in over 3000 productions in all fifty states and more than 20 foreign countries.

One of the great joys of being a playwright has been the chance to communicate with students who are performing in my shows, whether by e-mail or by visiting their schools. I have made many author visits to schools to see productions, talk with students, and hold master classes.

During all my years as a writer (including eleven books of non-fiction) I have worked on writing fiction. I wrote my first novel-length manuscript in the early 1990s and, with luck, it will never see the light of day, but it did prove to me that I could write a book-length work of fiction. In 2008, my novel The Program, about an evil weight loss clinic, was published by the micro-press Pearlsong Press. My YA novel The Fat Lady Sings was also published by Pearlsong.

But my big break-through as a writer came when I put together two of my passions—rare books and the English countryside—to write The Bookman’s Tale, the book that was ultimately accepted by Viking and by several other publishers worldwide. When I told her about the success of The Bookman’s Tale, a close friend in England said, “It’s the old case of the man who takes twenty years to become an overnight success.”

Presently I’m working on two major projects—a book about Lewis Carroll’s religious life and First Impressions, the follow-up to my first novel, which will do for Jane Austen what The Bookman’s Tale did for William Shakespeare. (From the author's website. Retrieved 7/24/2013.)



Book Reviews
The Bookman’s Tale has plenty of richness to offer….Daring intricacy.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The Bard is back in this rollicking literary mystery….This novel has something for everyone: William Shakespeare, a love story, murder and even a secret tunnel.
Minneapolis Star Tribune


All too good to resist….The Bookman’s Tale is a book about books, written for lovers of books.
Fayetteville Observer


Lovett’s debut is a century-spanning web of literary mystery that ensnares American Peter Byerly, a rare bookseller.... Peter stumbles into the argument about the authorship of Shakespeare’s work.... As [he] continues his sleuthing, he finds himself a potential suspect in a murder investigation.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) An American antiquarian bookseller now living in England...discovers, in an 18th-century book about Shakespeare forgeries, a Victorian miniature portrait of a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife. His research...leads Peter on a dangerous quest to prove the book's authenticity.... [A] gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end. —Katie Lawrence, Chicago
Library Journal


Fans of mysteries, of love stories, and of rare books will all find moments in Lovett’s novel to treasure.
Booklist


A pleasurably escapist trans-Atlantic mystery is intricately layered with plots, murders, feuds, romances, forgeries....all centered on the book that supposedly inspired Shakespeare's play A Winter's Tale.... Did Shakespeare really write his plays or not?... A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
Spoiler Alert: some questions may reveal the plot.

1. Do you believe that Shakespeare was the true author of his plays?

2. It's ironic that Robert Greene's most immortal words are those deriding Shakespeare as "an upstart Crow" (p. 31). Can you think of any other writers who were belittled by their contemporaries but went on to achieve greater and more enduring fame?

3. Consider Dr. Strayer's "typed list of things [Peter] needed to do in order to move on with his life" (p. 7) after Amanda's death. Can following such a list help someone recover from grief?

4. Peter's first visit to the Conservation Department at Ridgefield University transforms the way he regards books, "He had thought of books before only as his shield, but now they seemed to be taking on lives of their own, not so much as works of literature or history or poetry but as objects, collections of paper and thread and cloth and glue and leather and ink" (p. 15). Have you ever experienced a similar epiphany?

5. As Harbottle watches a performance of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, he takes some offense at the character of Autolycus. "Was knavery really Bartholomew's profession? Surely the proudest moments of his career did not drip with honesty, but Bartholomew did not believe he had ever done anyone real harm" (p. 64). Are Harbottle's crimes—as he believes—mostly harmless?

6. When Bartholomew Harbottle offers Robert Cotton the opportunity to purchase Shakespeare's manuscripts, the latter is reluctant because he "doesn't collect contemporary literature" (p. 67). Are there any writers at work today who you feel might attain literary immortality? Why?

7. At one point, Peter contemplates how he would feel if he were asked to change his name from Byerly to Ridgefield in order to preserve Amanda's family name. Since he always felt estranged from his parents, why might this be difficult for him? How would you feel in his position?

8. Philip Gardner spurns the woman he loves and his own child in order to keep his affair a secret from his wife. Does he do so for his own comfort or for the preservation of his family estate?

9. Was Peter justified in hiding from his own Amanda the letter in which Amanda Devereaux writes about her desire to have a child?

10. Is Peter really visited by Amanda's spirit or is she a figment of his imagination?

11. Are high-quality forgeries themselves works of art?

12. There are many unacknowledged children in The Bookman's Tale: Robert Greene's son, Fortunato; Bartholomew Harbottle's son, Matthew; and Phillip Gardner's son, Phillip Devereux. Why do you think this might be?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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