The Book of Air and Shadows

by Michael Gruber

{ 2007 | William Morrow | 480 pgs }

As a general rule, the more I tell you about a book’s plot, the less likely I am to recommend that you actually read it.

This is one of those times.

The Romgi picked up The Book of Air and Shadows before he did his internship in Korea last summer, but never got around to reading more than 100 pages or so. I picked it up last week after too-much-schoolwork and it turned out to be a quick read. The book has a fascinating plot: a fire at a bookstore selling rare antique books leads to the discovery of a 17th-century manuscript that mentions Shakespeare. It turns out to be a letter from a dying man to his wife and a series of ciphered letters from the man to his employer; the man (Richard Bracegirdle) spent part of his life spying on Shakespeare, who was a suspected papist. Most importantly, the ciphered letters detail a play that Shakespeare wrote about Mary, Queen of Scots, and indicate that the play, though unpublished, has been preserved and hidden. The big question of the novel is, are the letters genuine or part of some elaborate fraud?

The story is well-told. It alternates chapters of first-person narration, third-person narration, and excerpts from the Bracegirdle letters. I enjoyed the variety of viewpoints and the way the story progressed. Unfortunately, there was enough vulgarity in general and depravity in the first-person narrator in general that I’m going to draw the line: there are other worthwhile books to read. You can skip this one.

I thought for a while after finishing The Book of Air and Shadows about whether I wanted to recommend it or not. As I said, the story was engaging and well-told. But it was peppered with foul language and lewd references. How much is too much? Do we turn off the movie or put down the book at the first expletive? Usually not. Should we? I’m not sure. It seems like there are so many more worthwhile things we could do with our time, though. And so in the end I decided against giving this the thumbs-up.

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One thought on “The Book of Air and Shadows

  1. jaromgi says:

    That is actually why I couldn’t bring myself to finish the book. The narrator for the first-person parts was a character that I grew to loathe. Even though I did enjoy the other parts of the book, I grew tired of his wanton lasciviousness. I think every single chapter of his narration included a lengthy portion detailing his sexual conquests. Bleh.

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