If you love relationship novels that keep you turning the pages, and if you’re curious about writers and booksellers, look no further for your next summer read than The Book Lover: A Novel. The first and last stages of a book’s life cycle are embodied in the two main characters of this novel by Maryann McFadden (author of The Richest Season and So Happy Together). The younger character, 39-year-old Lucy Barrett, is a writer. The older character, 64-year-old Ruth Hardaway, is an independent (nonchain) bookseller.
The two characters meet because Ruth has arranged for Lucy to do a signing at her bookstore. Both women have high hopes for the success of Lucy’s book. As the story unfolds, the reader learns what writers and booksellers worry about as they jump through their particular hoops. For readers who are not familiar with the demands of the book world, the story will open their eyes to the beginning and end of the process (not the publishing part itself).
The book world, however, is not the real world, and the narrative tension comes from the personal lives of Lucy and Ruth as they come to grips with choices they have made and choices they need to make. Both Lucy and Ruth have been keeping secrets from their loved ones.
Lucy has not only written but self-published a book and has yet to tell her husband, David, about it. Ruth has been developing a friendship with Thomas, a convicted felon, but has kept her feelings from him and everyone else.
There are many more secrets to be uncovered as Lucy and Ruth and others in their lives become part of the story. I was reminded of a quotation my grandmother passed along to me: “Ah, what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.” And fodder for a novel, no?
Maryann McFadden’s writing employs a lot of foreshadowing and keeps you turning the pages. There are 50 chapters, mostly short, usually containing two scenes, and usually switching between what’s happening with Lucy and what’s happening with Ruth. You get used to the pace, which doesn’t ask you to think too hard about underlying motivations.