If you’re looking for something a little different – quirky and fun – check out Cathy Bonidan’s new novel The Lost Manuscript.
I received an advanced copy of the book from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley; all opinions are my own. This post contains some affiliate links that may earn me a commission if you purchase through them.
Published by St. Martin's Publishing Group on January 12, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Epistolary, Literary
Buy on Amazon
Buy from your local independent bookstore via Bookshop.org
Cathy Bonidan's The Lost Manuscript is a charming epistolary novel about the love of books and magical ability they have to bring people together.
Sometimes a book has the power to change your life...
When Anne-Lise Briard books a room at the Beau Rivage Hotel for her vacation on the Brittany coast, she has no idea this trip will start her on the path to unearthing a mystery. In search of something to read, she opens up her bedside table drawer in her hotel room, and inside she finds an abandoned manuscript. Halfway through the pages, an address is written. She sends pages to the address, in hopes of potentially hearing a response from the unknown author. But not before she reads the story and falls in love with it. The response, which she receives a few days later, astonishes her...
Not only does the author write back, but he confesses that he lost the manuscript 30 years prior on a flight to Montreal. And then he reveals something even more shocking—that he was not the author of the second half of the book.
Anne-Lise can’t rest until she discovers who this second mystery author is, and in doing so tracks down every person who has held this manuscript in their hands. Through the letters exchanged by the people whose lives the manuscript has touched, she discovers long-lost love stories and intimate secrets. Romances blossom and new friends are made. Everyone's lives are made better by this book—and isn't that the point of reading?
And finally, with a plot twist you don't see coming, she uncovers the astonishing identity of the author who finished the story.
The premise of The Lost Manuscript was so interesting. Anne-Lise Briard finds a manuscript in a nightstand. While we don’t initially know the story it tells, it so moves her that she decides she MUST return it to the author. Sylvestre, the author, reveals that his manuscript was unfinished, and he doesn’t know who wrote the ending. This leads the very determined Anne-Lise on a merry chase to track down the mystery writer! (Sylvestre, oddly enough, does not want her to take up this task. She reluctantly drags him along with her madness.) I found it to be a whimsical and eloquent tale.
What I missed, when I requested the book, was that it was told in epistolary format. Admittedly, it’s not one that I am generally fond of (because it often feels all tell, and no show). However, Bondian’s story takes the reader on an unusual journey. Her characters are quirky and delightful and numerous. Each new character peels back another layer to the mystery, usually related in some way to how the book’s message affected them.
Anne-Lise reminds me of my own mother-in-law, who can make friends with anyone and have them spilling their life story in minutes – only Anne-Lise manages to do this all via mail. She is positively persistent and strangely driven to find the writer of the final chapter.
The letters are heartfelt and earnest, and remind me what a dying art letter writing is. If you’ve ever had a pen pal, you’ll be all the more impressed by that which she accomplishes solely by writing.
As connection after connection is made, friendships form, romances bloom, all drawn into her hunt for the simple reason that the manuscript they read so profoundly touched them. She is a literary pied piper!
While the writing is beautiful, the format renders the characters a little flat at times. While their personality comes through in the writing, I feel like I still didn’t know much about them. For example, we read on several occasions that Anne-Lise is at odds with and frustrated by a cousin who works with her. At the time, unfortunately, we don’t know why this is of importance, or for that matter, what her job is!
Also, as the characters accumulate, I confess it could be difficult at times to keep the minor characters straight. (In fairness, that could be a function of my foggy brain, too.)
There are a few twists as Anne-Lise unravels the mystery of the unknown writer. So while it took a while to grow to like the format, the mystery and the characters kept me turning pages until the very end.
The Lost Manuscript is a love letter (pun unintended) to the power of a good story.
Want more like this?
If you’re a fan of stories about books, check out Karen Hawkins’ magical tale The Book Charmer.