Tuesday, June 2, 2015

‘The Last Bookaneer,’ by Matthew Pearl; New York Times Sunday Book Review, 5/29/15

John Vernon, New York Times Sunday Book Review; ‘The Last Bookaneer,’ by Matthew Pearl:
"The novelistic conceit of “The Last Bookaneer” is based on the historical fact that until the passage of the International Copyright Act of 1891, the pirating of books, especially books by British authors, was common in America. Set at the time of the act’s passage, Pearl’s novel tells a one-last-heist story of two rival pirates, Penrose Davenport and a mysterious malefactor called Belial, who separately leave for Samoa, where Robert Louis Stevenson is finishing what promises to be his final novel. (Stevenson and his family did indeed spend his last years in Samoa.) Each bookaneer hopes to steal Stevenson’s manuscript and sell it to a New York publisher before the law goes into effect on July 1, which means they’re engaged in a race against time...
In his asides, Pearl can be smart and inventive. He clearly knows the quirky history of books, especially those by the great 19th-century writers. The voice of his narrator, a bookseller by trade, is authentic and convincing, with just the right dash of stuffiness and complaint. In fact, the best thing about “The Last Bookaneer” may be the opportunity it provides for its author to comment on writers, bibliophiles and publishers, with sly allusions to today’s changing and threatened book culture. The closure of a bookshop, Fergins remarks, is a “failure of mankind — a sign . . . that bookshops will one day disappear altogether and be replaced by mail order.”"

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