I should have liked The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl, a historical novel about the illicit book trade between the United States and Europe. But I just couldn’t do it and it all comes down to one reason: style. There is a certain style with which some historical novels are written, and i just don’t like it. Here are some of the elements:
- 1st Person Narrative. At the best of times I don’t really like first person narration. I don’t know why – it’s just a personal thing.
- The Narrator. A certain ilk of historical novel has an wizened and pompous older narrator, expounding his amazing experiences to a younger admirer. What the narrator has witnessed or experienced is remarkable, maybe even verging on magical and mystical. The narrator is almost always male (is this where mansplaining originated?) and unreliable. To me that is his one redeeming factor, I love an unreliable narrator.
- Digressions. Lengthy Digressions. I feel like yelling, just get on with the story! But, of course, the digressions are the real story. If i were a better student of English Literature, I could tell you this is a hallmark of the Dickensian style and that the author has chosen to write in this way for very specific reasons that are all very well thought out and quite clever, but I am just a reader and a moody one at that.
I’ve pointed these things out for one rather good reason, and that is to say that although The Last Bookaneer didn’t work for me, it will work for some of you. Matthew Pearl is an acclaimed and best selling author, which is the reason why i decided to give him a try.
Who would like this book? Fans of historical fiction and book lovers. Pearl exploits an interesting period in international copyright law (who’d a thought, right?) to create an adventure story involving the sale of black market books. The quest for Robert Louis Stevenson’s last great work is at the heart of the story. For that reason, Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (review) might be a nice companion piece to The Last Bookaneer.
I know there are people out there who will love this book. Are you one of them?
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration via NetGalley.