Tuesday 10 April 2018

The Lost Book of the Grail

My second book for the What's In A Name? challenge is The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett. It covers the category, 'The word 'the' used twice'.

Arthur Prescott, is rather old-fashioned, a university professor whose heart really isn't in his job, but he has a secret. Unbeknown to his friends he is someone who is trying to track down the location of the Holy Grail. To that end he's moved to Barchester, a city he regularly visited as a child, staying with his grandfather. It was his grandfather who introduced him to King Arthur, his knights, and the mystery of the Holy Grail. He believed the grail was somewhere in the vicinity of Barchester and tasked Arthur with the search on the condition that he must keep his mission a secret.

Arthur's other obsession is books. Old books. Specifically the books and manuscripts presently residing in the cathedral library. He knows them all intimately... in fact, because the library is used by very few people, Arthur feels rather territorial about it, like they all belong to him. Which is why, when a young American woman, Bethany Davis, comes to digitise the library, Arthur's nose is put somewhat out of joint. He's not much into computers and isn't sure putting the manuscripts online is a good idea, despite Bethany's enthusiam. He tries very hard indeed not to like her and in some respects succeeds: in others, not at all.

It turns out Bethany is also a Grail seeker. But what is she doing in Barchester? How has she come to the conclusion that this is the place to search? And what's her connection to an American millionaire evangelist who collects religious artifacts?

What an interesting character Charlie Lovett has created in Arthur Prescott. Bookish, an open and curious mind about subjects such as King Arthur and The Grail, a man who obsessively goes to the quiet services at the cathedral but does not believe in God. He goes because he loves the atmosphere, the building and the music. I can relate to that completely. He's also deeply skeptical about the internet and modern living and although I am an internet user I can still relate to his misgivings, no problem at all.

This book reminded me a bit of M.R. James. Not so much in the writing and supernatural themes but his stories have been described as 'Cathedrally' and that's how I would describe this book. I don't know much about cathedrals... I've been to a few, Truro, Exeter, Wells, Bath, York, Ely, Salisbury, Winchester, St. Pauls, more than I thought actually... but, not being a Christian, I don't know all the terms for the sections of the buildings or the services and wish I did because, like Arthur, I think they're wonderful places.

I also loved to bits the bookishness of this book. I love how important the history of ancient manuscripts is in it, there are short sections set centuries ago where the author tells us how certain writings came into being and what happened to them when the vikings came raping and pillaging or during the disolution of the monasteries etc. I found it all very interesting and enjoyed wallowing in the monastic, bookish, cathedralish atmosphere of this gentle, relaxing story.

I gather Charlie Lovett is the author of The Bookman's Tale, a book I remember seeing quite a few reviews of a couple of years ago. I shall definitely be reading that at some stage.



DesLily said...

Hmmm. I read The Bookmans Tale some time ago. But I don't remember if I liked it lol. I probably did. I can't seem to find it on my blog but I am SURE I read it.
Glad this one was one that you enjoyed!

BooksPlease said...

This is my kind of book, Cath! It sounds great - the Holy Grail, books, manuscripts in a cathedral library etc. I used to be a librarian and whilst training I spent some time working at Gloucester Cathedral library (fascinating). I'm the same as you about cathedrals, like them for the atmosphere and architecture not the religion as such but the spirituality appeals to me. My library doesn't have a copy - so I'll see if Barter Books does next time I go, which is on 24 April.

I read The Bookman's Tale a few years ago and I wrote on my blog that I thought it began really well. I really liked the historical sections and the details about the book trade and forgery is fascinating, but I found the love story between Peter (a young antiquarian bookseller who suffers from an anxiety disorder) and his beloved Amanda rather cloying. The second half became a series of cliff hangers, culminating in what seemed to me like something out of a cross between a Dan Brown novel, an Enid Blyton Famous Five book and a murder mystery. But I still enjoyed it, swept along by the plot, an absorbing mix of historical fact and fiction, mystery and romance set in a book lovers’ world. I didn't keep the book and now I wish I had - it seems hard to get. It just shows I really shouldn't get rid of books as so often I want to read them again later on.

BooksPlease said...

I've just checked again on Amazon and can see there are available copies of The Bookman's Trail!

Cath said...

Pat, I remember you reading it. Quite a few people did and I think most liked it well enough. I think you would like this one too so if you see it cheap somewhere grab it. I can't send you mine as it's a paperback with smallish print.

Margaret: It really was an enjoyable read. Lots in it to interest me, plus it felt a bit like Salisbury or Winchester (it wasn't either as I think both were mentioned in the book as well as Glastonbury) where I've been quite a few times. Wow, I bet it really was fascinating to work in a cathedral library! You're most welcome to my copy of the book as I probably won't read again and I'm always happy for books to go to good homes. If you would like it, email your address to nanquidno2001 at yahoo.com (not sure if I sent you my new email address).

Very interesting to read your take on The Bookman's Tale. It sounds rather fun and I honestly don't mind books which are mainly good but might have a couple of irritations. Such is life. I don't need to buy a copy as Tiverton Library has it, I've written it in my library notebook. All I have to do is remember to take the notebook with me next time I go.....

Enjoy your trip to Barter Books. I will be see it at some stage as a friend has moved to your area and we'll probably make the trip in a year or two.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I'm in two minds about this book and although I was 99.99% sure, I had to read for myself that Barchester is a fictitious place. In doing so, I came across this lovely post on the author's website, about the inspiration he gained for the story, from visiting Salisbury Cathedral. Now that is one place where we spend quite a lot of time, as we have a couple of Treasure Trails around the Cathedral and City, which need regular checking and maintenance. It is only a little further than driving in the other direction to Bath and the parking is cheaper!


Thanks for the thoughtful review :)


Cath said...

Yvonne, sorry to be so long replying, we've been to Swansea for a couple of days this week, with our grand-daughter, so am behind with everything at the moment. We've been to Salisbury cathedral too, visited it some years ago when we used to go to that city quite regularly. Sadly, have not been in years. Funny how one place draws you for a period and then you get out of the habit of going there. On one visit we went up to Old Sarum, what an amazing spot! I'll take a look your link in a moment.

Have a lovely weekend... at least the weather is now nice.