Review: “The Lost Book of the Grail”

Former antiquarian bookseller and book collector--we profiled his Lewis Carroll collection in our spring 2014 issue--Charlie Lovett launched his fiction writing career with his 2013 debut, The Bookman’s Tale, which became a New York Times bestseller. He followed up with the Austen-inspired First Impressions (2014), and more recently with The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (2016). Now Lovett has a new book to offer, The Lost Book of the Grail, to be published by Viking tomorrow, and it is his best work yet.   

9780399562518.jpgSet in Trollope’s fictional cathedral/university town of Barchester, this bibliomystery immediately enchants those with a weakness for old books and church bells. Arthur Prescott is a 40-year-old literature teacher with serious luddite tendencies and a borderline obsession with King Arthur and Holy Grail mythology. He is most suited to days spent in the rare book room of Barchester Cathedral Library, punctuated by drinks with fellow book collectors and cathedral services (morning prayers, Evensong, compline). His favorite volume is a 1634 William Stansby edition of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, though its “leather binding was badly worn at the joints and corners, and nearly two inches of the lower spine was lacking.”  

Enter Bethany Davis, a loquacious American fourteen years his junior, sent to Barchester to digitize pre-Reformation Christian manuscripts, courtesy of some Midwestern billionaire. Obviously these opposites attract, although suspicions abound. While university officials contemplate the sale of the manuscripts once the scanning is completed, Arthur sets off to uncover a secret he believes can save the books.  

Lovett layers his narrative with quick dips into Barchester’s history, as Arthur and his clever conspirators unravel a mystery spanning more than a millennium. These characters are lively and relatable, and the novel’s pace is spot-on. The Lost Book of the Grail is truly a page-turner for bibliophiles.

And though we’re told to ‘never judge a book by its cover,’ this one is pretty terrific, with its cut-paper, antique map, and manuscript detailing.

Image courtesy of Viking.

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