The Lost Book of the Grail


 The Lost Book of the Grail, by Charlie Lovett

A little while ago, I had this novel recommended to me as one of the best novels the person had read this year.  Given that she reads a good deal more than I do, this was quite a recommendation, so I got it from the library.  Lovett has a fun take on the Grail legend, planting it in Trollope's fictional county of Barsetshire.

Arthur Prescott teaches at the local university, but what he really likes is living in Barchester's cathedral close, going to Evensong (even though he's an atheist), and studying the Holy Grail in the cathedral's library.  Arthur's grandfather taught him that the Grail was real, and located right there in Barsetshire.  Then, to Arthur's dismay, Bethany arrives from the US to digitize the medieval manuscripts in the library, which might possibly be all right if it didn't raise the possibility that the cathedral would sell the books off.  And Bethany is suspiciously interested in the Holy Grail, too.  What if she finds it and hands it over to the American billionaire financing the project?

But Bethany is a fellow Grail addict, and Arthur finds her clever observations helpful.  They decide to team up with two more friends and see if they can solve the mystery of where the 83rd manuscript went, find the lost Book of St. Ewolda, and figure out whether the Grail might actually be real.

The modern story is interspersed with flashbacks to important points in the history of the abbey and cathedral.  Lovett puts in references to Trollope's books, scattering some familiar names across the story, but wisely never features a scene with those characters.  It's fun.

I was, however, a bit disappointed that Lovett never once acknowledges the existence of Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire novels, which he could have done pretty easily without weighing down the story.  All three could exist together.

It is, however, a really fun story that winds in and out of history, and sets up a delightful puzzle.  The ending is entirely satisfying and I enjoyed it very much.  This isn't a cheap take-off, but a good story that many bookish Barsetshire and Grail lovers can happily read.

Comments

  1. I thought this was such a fun book. I didn't like the romance, though, it didn't work for me. But all the talk about history and taking care of old books was really interesting.

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    Replies
    1. The romance wasn't the best part. (Come to think of it, is Bethany the dreaded MPDG??) The books were good!

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  2. I've had variable reactions to Lovett's previous work: his Shakespeare-themed first novel was quite enjoyable, but the conclusion of his Austen thriller failed to satisfy.
    https://calmgrove.wordpress.com/tag/charlie-lovett/?orderby=date&order=ASC

    And now there's this Arthurian title which tantalises this former enthusiast for the medieval tales, but I've yet to read any Trollope--will I be disadvantaged here?
    -- Chris

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    Replies
    1. Chris, no, I don't think that would be a problem. Lovett drops names and place-names from Trollope's books, but not more; it's more that fictional Barsetshire makes a nice place to imagine Grail adventures. There is actually not a lot of Arthurian material -- Lovett does not spend his time consulting every Arthurian storyteller, just Malory and Geoffrey of Monmouth. He plays more with Tennyson. There's a whole lot of English church history.

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