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Book review: The Bookman’s Tale

Cover of the Bookman's TaleOur Book Club review this time is The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Love and Obsession by Charlie Lovett.

Author Charlie Lovett is a teacher, playwright, former antiquarian bookseller and “avid book collector“.

The Bookman’s Tale begins in 1995 in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. It’s the first time that bookseller and restorer, Peter Byerly, has entered a bookshop since the death of his wife nine months ago.

He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining the cocoon of books shielding him from all danger, inhaling deeply that familiar scent of books and leather and dust and words.

Scanning the shelves for something familiar to calm his nerves he pulls a book from a shelf. As he flips through its pages and lets the pages fall where they would, he’s shocked to discover a small Victorian watercolour portrait of a woman who looks just like his dead wife, Amanda.

He has to know where this portrait came from and so he embarks on an obsessive search for clues about the watercolour’s origin, and how it came to be tucked into an eighteenth-century book on Shakespeare forgeries: a search that takes him from eighteenth century feuds between rival landowners and book collectors; to book dealing and trickery Shakespeare’s time.

Peter’s search leads him to believe he might have found “The Holy Grail” of literature – the book that finally solves the long-standing disagreement between Oxfordians and Stratfordians, and the mystery surrounding whether Shakespeare was really the author of his works.

The Bookman’s Tale is full of interesting historical detail, with multiple layers of story and plot; the interwoven and connected lives of characters from past and present; and changing locations and time periods. The reader is taken from 1980s North Carolina (and the beautifully told account of Peter and Amanda’s love for each other), to rural Oxfordshire in the 1990s, to London in the 1500s and 1600s, and back again, as the story dictates and the mystery unfolds. The author manages this very well and it makes for an engrossing and really fascinating story.

I found The Bookman’s Tale to be an absorbing and very enjoyable read. When I had to put it down I really looked forward to picking it up again and continuing the story. It’s a brilliant book – great reading for any time of year, but with autumn approaching it’s a perfect book for settling down on a chilly autumn day for a bit of escapism into the world of rare books, Shakespeare’s England, and contemporary rural Oxfordshire.

If you love books and you love a good story, I think you’ll love The Bookman’s Tale too.


I was given an advance reading copy of The Bookman’s Tale, in exchange for an honest review.

Angela Boothroyd

I'm a teacher and linguist who specializes in helping non-native English speakers speak English more fluently. I review books and interview authors for the Birds on the Blog Book Club - if you have any suggestions for reviews or interviews please let us know 🙂