This novel had a great concept; lots of a fun for a book-lover like me. The main character is a rare-book dealer whose young and much-loved wife has recently died. The only thing that shakes Peter out of the fog of grief is a Victorian watercolour of a woman who looks almost exactly like his dead wife — and the unbelievably valuable old book to which the painting leads him. As Peter tracks the book (which of course, like all such books, is being sought by unscrupulous people who will stop at nothing to get it) in the present day, his story is interspersed with chapters showing the book’s journey through time. In this way The Bookman’s Tale is remeniscent of Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, but despite the recurring themes of grief and loss, the tone here is lighter and the treatment of the subject more popular than literary. The language is straightforward and the characterizations sometimes a little thin and predictable, but the fascinating story of a book that, if it were found to be genuine, would change what we know about literature, is irresistible. I read this book quickly and with great pleasure.
(Parenthetical note: until I went back and looked at my review for People of the Book, I’d forgotten that I had once come up with a name for this sub-genre of books. I called it “Adventures in Resesarch” and besides People of the Book I included in that category Wilton Barnhardt’s ought-to-be-more-famous novel Gospel and of course Dan Brown’s ought-to-be-less-famous The Da Vinci Code, A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which I loved, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which disappointed me. I’d count The Bookman’s Tale as a worthy addition to my Adventures in Research shelf).