I recently read Charlie Lovett’s 2013 debut “The Bookman’s Tale” and was impressed by his successful combination of a passion for books with an adventure genre novel. His latest, his third, is a much quieter work but once again this ex-antiquarian bookseller makes a love for old books a central theme and ends up with a novel every bit as entertaining.
He has taken the brave step of setting it in the cathedral town of Barchester, a fictional location familiar to Trollope fans but by bringing it to the present day there are merely echoes of those classic novels. Central character Arthur Prescott is the main reason I enjoyed this. A frustrated English lecturer at the University, with a penchant of PG Wodehouse he is a man without religious beliefs who attends church services a number of times a day. From a child he has been obsessed with Arthurian myths and the legend of the Holy Grail and his grandfather suggested there could be links with these and their home town. Arthur’s life changes when another Grail devotee, an American woman, arrives to digitize the cathedral’s manuscripts. The dilemma over the future of our important works is a fascinating theme of the novel and would create much discussion for reading groups.
In many ways this book is the antidote to the Dan Brown-type adventure novel suggested by the title. There’s no globe-trotting, the puzzles are intellectual and carried out in the Cathedral library. We are teased throughout with moments in history where the keepers of Barchester’s secrets overlap and with sections from a Guide Book Arthur is writing about the cathedral.
If this sounds a little too restrained there’s the delights of Arthur, at odds with changes in modern academia and his group of code-busting pals, the Barchester Bibliophiles who keep the momentum going in this inaction action quest novel. I ended up enjoying this even more than his slightly more genre-aware debut. Reading about a genuine love for books is always a delight.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Lovett about this book for nb magazine (now retitled as nudge books rather than new books). This can be found in the edition which is out now (nb 92). This can be ordered by following this link.
The Lost Book Of The Grail was published by Alma Books in March 2017. Many thanks for nudge for allowing me to interview the author and the publishers for the review copy.