The Book Lover’s Tale, by Ivo Stourton
The Book Lover’s Tale focuses heavily on the book’s first person narrator, Matt de Voy, who lives in central London. Matt is an interior designer who, alongside his wife Cecilia, works solely for the rich and revered.
The retrospective prologue of the novel seems a little stylistically confused, particularly with regard to the rest of the book, which follows the regular conventions of written prose. In the prologue, no apostrophes have been used to denote speech between characters and, in consequence, the novel is rather difficult to get into. The rather intriguing prologue explains how Matt feels his life has changed since meeting Claudia Swanson: ‘I met Claudia at the end of spring… Everything just got more and more serious until eventually I found myself here’. He finds her desirable from their first meeting, but it is made clear that she only has eyes for her husband.
As well as being an interior designer, Matt professes that he is very literary minded. He speaks of how, in his work, ‘I did not just select their books for them [the clients]; I validated their life choices’. He tells the Swansons, who call on his expertise to design them a library for their new house in Vincent Square, ‘Your taste in books says more about you than any other single object in your house. It reflects your interest, your intelligence, your sophistication, your humour…’. Despite this belief, books for Matt’s clients are not chosen to be enjoyed, but for their colour scheme alone. This seems rather banal criteria, particularly with regard to the protagonist in a novel named The Book Lover’s Tale.
Jim Swanson and his pregnant wife, Claudia, are introduced almost immediately. Elements of Jim’s character just do not match what one would expect. He is a millionaire financier, but his speech sounds like it belongs to a teenager – ‘I guess that would be pretty cool’, and ‘that would be wicked’ are amongst his turns of phrase. Far too much minutiae has also been included throughout. One paragraph at the start of the book tells how Jim and Claudia repeatedly sit down and then stand up again. This information has no real bearing on the story and makes the book feel as though it is merely plodding along with no real destination in mind.
Stourton’s writing is to a relatively high standard, but the narrator lets the book down somewhat. Matt is not a likeable character, and is not easy to engage or empathise with. He exudes an air of elevated self-importance and comes across as an incredibly arrogant individual. We learn a lot about him as the novel progresses, but he does not feel like a realistic character. He is incredibly self-centred throughout and is often rude and derogatory about his clients. He lacks charisma, seems to have little respect for women, and is often awkward in social situations. At times, it feels as though the book is trying to live up to Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter books, pairing more sinister elements with a witty, self-aware and humorous first person narrator, but many of the jokes which Matt utters fall rather flat. In fact, the general idea of the book seems better than Stourton’s execution of it throughout.
The entire story in The Book Lover’s Tale is rather a slow one. The storyline meanders along, going off at tangents here and there, but never really seems to reach its destination. There are many better, more rewarding bookish reads for the discerning reader out there, ones which have stronger and more concrete storylines with a clear direction in mind.