“The epigram sums up what the book is about, to save and preserve the past”
The weather was a bit cool but we enjoyed the Southern hospitality during our March Break trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The kids still had fun on the beach, splashed in the pool, enjoyed some cousin time and I was lucky enough to meet Charlie Lovett. He presented at the Moveable Feast luncheon, speaking about his new book, The Lost Book of the Grail. This event is part of a wonderful weekly author series, hosted by Litchfield Books. My husband is disappointed that the Greg Iles event is taking place after our vacation!
Charlie Lovett was introduced as a “professional book lover” who, through his fiction, “takes us into the dusty shelves of the library”. The book had only been released for 2 weeks and he laughed that “a lot of you have something to look forward to” and that there would be more time inside reading due to the cool weather. As a Lovett book newby, I know that I am looking forward to delving into these stories based around books, mystery and history!
Lovett described The Lost Book of the Grail as a “tricky book to talk about” since it is a “story of a story” which is “very much about secrets” and “how a secret moves through time”. It is a story of Arthur Prescott working to uncover the secret of a Cathedral and its’ connections to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In an effort to avoid sharing secrets, he opted to discuss both setting and character with the group of approximately 80 individuals.
It is unique that Lovett decides on his setting and then develops the story. The Lost Book of the Grail is set in Barchester, England which is a fictional city – yet a fictional city that already exists. It was first described by Anthony Trollope and a spot of humour that I sadly missed, not knowing anything about Trollope, was that he commented that he had shared the first draft with the author – yet Barchester Towers was published in 1857 and the author has been dead since 1882! He had read through all the Trollope books, describing it as a “wonderful experience on the science of addiction” and noted that the books kept getting longer and longer with the final tally of 3644 pages. He took bits from these novels (such as character names) and like “tiny little easter eggs, scattered them throughout the text”. The setting is mainly in 2016 with bits of the past interspersed and for readers knowledgeable on Trollope, this will be a real treat.
The working title was The Lost Manuscript and the book takes a fictional approach to some key moments in British History. He shared that the first scene was based on one night – the Coventry Blitz when 4500 homes, the city centre and the medieval cathedral were destroyed. He summed up this period of Britain as a time of great courage to bear up under the bombs (this is making me think of the novel Coventry where Canadian author Helen Humphreys contrasts rubble, death and destruction with the humanity and goodness of others who come together during tragedy and despair). He told the group that readers could learn vast spans of history through this “quick, easy, dirty history class by reading the bits” in the novel. While he found history classes in highschool “pretty boring” since nothing had much to do with him, he tries to “show how all this stuff affected ordinary people” and how they dealt with the fallout of these historic events.
As part of his research, Lovett was able to visit many cathedral libraries. Generally, he had been kept away from the books, behind a rope. He had been lucky to visit the Worcester Cathedral Library to be present in the atmosphere and inspire some of the books in the novel. Lovett was able to visit Canterbury a week after the book was written and said that “stuff kept happening that was right out of the book” which kept he and his wife laughing.
He educated the audience about the gradual beginnings of libraries. Monastaries might have started with one book but once they amassed enough books, they would be called libraries. As the value of a book was appreciated, books were sometimes chained to shelves to protect them which protected them but made it difficult to save them in times of danger.
He began to talk about the characters including Arthur Prescott who was described as a 40 year old who was an interesting guy that “believes he was born in the wrong era”. He attends multiple church services yet does not believe in God. He is a junior lecturer at Barchester University who is perpetually writing a guide book on the Cathedral Library while doing secret research on the Holy Grail. He has a collection of P.G. Wodehouse novels so Lovett feels that, like his last novel that led readers to Jane Austen, this one will drive people to read Wodehouse.
While Arthur seems to be stuck in the past he meets Bethany, an American with “breathless energy that comes in to this calm, serene, medieval space that Arthur has been living in”. Her role is to digitize manuscripts which Arthur sees as a threat to the Cathedral Library but he soon discovers her to be a fellow Grail enthusiast. While Arthur sees the world like a museum, “it is Bethany that teaches him that the world is alive”. Lovett describes a “happy accident” in the book when Arthur first mistook Bethany for a statue before realizing she was a woman similar to his museum view of the world which ends up coming alive.
He admitted that some of the things that happen in the book had actually happened to him (although did not elaborate on which parts so we will have to use our imaginations). He encouraged the audience to make sure to read the acknowledgement in the beginning of the book by Major Ronald Balfour, one of two monuments men killed in the line of duty during World War II. He had been the Uncle of a friend who had been due to give a speech that he would never give which included:
“No age lives entirely alone; every civilization is formed not merely by its own achievements but by what it has inherited from the past. If these things are destroyed, we have lost a part of our past, and we shall be the poorer for it” (Major Ronald Balfour).
It was interesting to learn that Lovett is currently working on a middle-grade book about 4 kids who find a magic library full of old books. He is currently brainstorming his next adult book but did share that it is set in Yew York City around the turn of the 20th century. He is not only an author but a former antiquarian book seller, a book collector and he curated the Alice Alive! event celebrating Alice in Wonderland at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts at the Lincoln Centre. He shares his time between Winston-Salem, NC and Kingham, Oxfordshire , in England.
The book discussion was followed by a lovely lunch and I was seated at the “new friends”
table where I met a lovely group of snowbirds who spend the winter in Myrtle Beach to escape the winter weather in the northern states. The table talk was interesting and the dedication and love of reading was evident! Vicki, the owner of Litchfield Books also sat at our table and I wish her well with her planning for a second bookstore!
We were treated to salad and salmon quiche (chicken for me as I am not a salmon fan), iced tea and a coconut cream tart in phyllo pastry with whip cream and a strawberry garnish. The location was a beautiful room, with a stunning view of the ocean, at the Grand Dunes Resort about fifteen minutes away from our condo.
Charlie Lovett was an engaging speaker. He was funny, sharing jokes (even if the entire audience might have missed the one about sharing his manuscript with Trollope) and exuded his passion for books and history. I am excited to have a copy of both The Lost Book of the Grail and The Bookman’s Tale on my to be read shelf and am looking forward to reading them both! My plan had been to read them before the event, but as many of you are aware, it is Canada Reads season and I still have a couple books to finish before the debates start next week!
My thanks to Charlie Lovett for an inspiring presentation, to Litchfield Books for promoting great novels and to the “new friends” who I met who share a passion and love of reading!