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The Last Bookaneer (2015)

by Matthew Pearl

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5032641,996 (3.37)16
As the 19th century draws to an end, two bookaneers are caught up in a colonial war on Samoa as they compete to steal Robert Louis Stevenson's last manuscript and make a fortune before a new international treaty ends the bookaneers' trade forever.

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» See also 16 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Interesting and led me to look up more about Robert Lewis Stevenson - roughly based on history so I enjoyed that. ( )
  VictoriaJZ | Apr 21, 2021 |
This book was cute, if longer than necessary. The premise was cute - before strict copyright laws, literature pirates called "bookaneers" would steal manuscripts and other literary etcs. and sell them for much cash. I wasn't sure if I was meant to sympathize with the bookaneers or not...there was a distinction made between the low-class and high-class bookaneers, with their wealth or lack thereof presumably being linked to their talent at their job, but to me it just seemed like the rich people got better descriptions. The top bookaneers were dashing and clever, masters of subterfuge and quite heroic, while the lower class bookaneers were "barnacles", petty thieves, dirty, and dumb. Except to my mind, all the bookaneers are thieves so the class distinction was just there to make the rich ones feel better about their vocation. They're classy thieves, not like those dirty thieves. I could never really get into the glory of the search for rare manuscripts, considering that they're just doing it for money and they are hurting creative people's livelihoods. They just kind of seemed like assholes to me, or psychopaths, who were in it for the cash and the thrill of the chase, to see how well they could fool people into thinking they were benign. There were some inklings of Sherlock Holmes in how at least one of the bookaneers described the ways his plans unfolded. Especially considering the book was narrated by a bookaneer sidekick (one of the narrators).

There was also a lot of racism, which I know, it's arguable that in the late 1800s in Samoa all the white people were racist! So, yes, it doesn't come off as Pearl being racist, but as the characters he writes being racist - and especially considering that Robert Louis Stevenson is a main character in this book, the colonialist white man perspective makes sense...but there's a lot of talk of savages and cannibals, how Samoans are better than the other islanders because they're tall and their hair isn't kinky, "it may seem barbaric but remember, American Indians scalp people!", RL Stevenson talking a bunch of BS about how all the Samoan people who work for him at his island mansion are his family, not his servants...there are some characters who are hatefully racist, and they're "bad guys" which I guess the hateful racism is supposed to indicate, but no acknowledgment that the white hero racism isn't so wonderful either. Which, again, the book was set in and meant to have been written in the late 1800s early 1900s so it's "true to life", but there didn't seem to be anything tongue in cheek about it, no indications that Pearl was doing a send-up or a satire of writing of the time period. You can read a book actually published during that time and think, man those people were racist assholes! And then you can read this book fictionally published during that time but actually published in 2015 and hope that the emulation of the style was meant to be a criticism of it and not a nostalgic nod to times past but it really feels more like the latter. Like, I really want to honour these great writers by not changing any of their negative traits and especially not by challenging them or exploring them in any meaningful way from the current context that we live in.

Also the female characters mostly appeared to be around to provide character development for the men. RLS's female family members are less used as plot devices and more just 2-dimensional...I think the author tried to pull their characterizations from history so they weren't invented, which helped, but they also don't really have much personality. One of the other women was basically just where a main character's emotions and motivations come from.

Overall though, I liked the writing style and the general plot. The ending didn't do much for me, but by that time I was already skimming because the book was too long. It didn't ruin my enjoyment though, I can just pretend the book ended earlier! It's an adventurous romp with people I didn't care for but was interested in what would happen to them!
( )
  katebrarian | Jul 28, 2020 |
I lay in bed, grasping a book. Falling in and out of conscientious. Finally i release my grasp and my "Rosebud" moment arrives and I state...."BookBosomed"

Reading this book was a joy. I am fortunate that someone suggested i read the works of Matthew Pearl. His style of writing, the research, his imagination all these i appreciate. I wonder what his process is in writing a book. I believe he stated that he came upon the word, Bookaneer in another work. I assume he was intrigued and off he went. There are times i wish i had the time, not so much as to write a book but to research for a book. A book explorer. This book spoke to me in that way, a journey. A journey with authors, publishers and other "barnacles". Was man made for books or books made for man? I would guess a theme for this book might be "For the love of books" One passage reads "the pages of books can influence our thinking and our action in ways we never comprehend."

As i read this book and then would stop for the day. I would take a moment and think about all the books i have read. I did not join goodreads until i believe 2015. I don't know how many books i have not recorded on this site. It pained me recently to give away some 300 books for my library was full and books were everywhere. Sorry for rambling.

Do read this book and take yourself away with the author on a journey. You will read excerpts from familiar authors and with Pearl's books the end is at the end. You will rediscover why you love books. ( )
1 vote Klatooo | Feb 8, 2020 |
Read all my reviews on http://urlphantomhive.booklikes.com

I'm always interested in books about books, and this book tells about the final days of the bookaneers, people who stole manuscripts from writers for publishers, which is coming to an end with the introduction of copyrights. The main characters try one final time to get their hands on the latest book by Robert Louis Stevenson, which he was writing all the way in Samoa.

The premise was really interesting, but in the execution there was something that didn't really work out. The writing and most of the story were really slow, and there is a lot that doesn't really add to it. It was interesting and kept me entertained, but I felt it was too long for the story it told. I think with the concept of bookaneers, more books could be written (apparently there's at least one more, which features some of the characters from The Last Bookaneer).

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! ( )
  Floratina | Dec 7, 2019 |
In 1890s New York City, a mixed race young man by the name of Clover, working in a railroad dining car, meets a book peddler named Fergins. Fergins is English, and kind enough to lend Clover books when they meet. Eventually, Fergins starts telling Clover of his adventures as an assistant to one of the last great bookaneers.

In the nineteenth century, copyright law in nearly every country left the works of foreign authors, or works originally published in other countries, unprotected. This created the trade of bookaneering--stealing manuscripts before the authors could sell them. Writers lost out financially, but publishers made greater profits while book buyers got books comparatively cheaply.

In 1890, Fergins and his bookaneer employer, Penrose Davenport, learn that Robert Louis Stevenson, living in Samoa, is at work on what may be his last great masterpiece of a novel. And they are off on what will be the last great bookaneer escapade, before the new international copyright convention, at last protecting authors internationally, goes into effect on July 1. [Note: really cursory research seems to indicate this chronology is not right. Never mind; it makes for a great story!] They work their way into the confidence of the Stevenson household in Samoa, and then scheme and contrive to locate the manuscript so they can steal it as soon as it's finished. They're not alone; another successful bookaneer, Davenport's rival Belial, is already there.

Davenport and Belial are both dangerous, ruthless men. Stevenson is a great deal more wily and dangerous than they realize. It's a suspenseful and absorbing story, with an entertaining twist.

It takes the reader longer to see what's happening in the frame story of Fergins and Clover, which has its own unexpected twist.

The characters are handled very well, and one can find oneself lured into liking characters one has more than enough information to know should not be trusted. Once I got well started on the story, I couldn't put it down.


I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publsher via Penguin's First to Read program. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
A Literary Treasure on an Island.

Before films, before television, before pop music, there were books, and writers. There are famous writers now, but the level of fame that could be reached by a popular writer in the nineteenth century is almost beyond our imagining. After killing off Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan-Doyle was called “the most-hated man in London” by fans who wore mourning clothes, when Charles Dickens died mourners paraded passed his grave for three days, and during this time fans frequently paid top-dollar to see authors read their works in sold-out theaters. The latter was important to writers, because many had more fame than fortune. Lax or non-existent copyright laws made it astonishingly easy for publishers to pirate an author’s works. Readers got cheap books, publisher’s got rich, and the writers...well they became famous, but they didn’t earn a penny.

This phenomena is the starting point for Matthew Pearl’s latest novel The Last Bookaneer. I got a kick out of the title, but the title is just the start. For the last decade or so Mr. Pearl has been a master of the literary historical thriller, and his latest is no exception.

Near the end of the nineteenth century Pen Davenport is the most infamous bookaneer in the world. He will go anywhere and do almost anything to get his hands on the most wanted, and newest manuscripts. Soon an international treaty will be signed, and the bookaneers will be needed no more. For his last heist, Davenport decides to travel across the South Pacific, where a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors to finish what many believe will be his greatest masterpiece. For the first time he will not be working alone, as he decides to include, or kidnap, depending on your point of view, the easy-going book-seller Edgar Fergins, to record this final adventure. Unfortunately for them, Davenport’s greatest rival, the fiendish Belial is also after Stevenson’s manuscript. The rest of the book is a smart and thrilling battle of wits as the two vie for literary treasure amid social and political upheaval in the wilds of Samoa.

If this were all there was to this book it would be good. As it is, there is a ton more. Mr. Pearl knows the era, and the conventions of the fiction of the period, and he honors them as often as he turns them on their head. Subplots and backstories abound, but they augment rather than hinder the main story-line, giving it richness and depth. The plot is smart and clever, and kept me on my toes the whole time. Stevenson and his family were enthralling, and Mr. Pearl gives us a deep and detailed world without slowing the pace. Of particular interest is his treatment of Samoa, which he brings to life with loving detail. The Island’s natives are also well-drawn, transcending the condescending way the European characters view them, to become strong deep characters, especially Vao and Tulagi.

The Last Bookaneer is more than just a clever literary thriller. Without stopping to lecture Mr. Pearl manages to touch upon the nature of creativity, and gives his bookaneers a surprising amount of depth and complexity to their philosophies and lives. I was particularly moved by Kitten, a bookaneer who is also the love of Davenport’s life. Her story, and her character were so strong and moving that I wanted more. Tie it all up with an surprising and satisfying ending and you have a novel worthy of Stevenson himself.

Review by: Mark Palm
Full Reviews Available at: http://www.thebookendfamily.weebly.co...

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Matthew Pearlprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jackson, JDNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Some books are to be tasted, others are to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. -Francis Bacon
No, I suppose you never heard of such a creature. -E.C. Fergins
For my children
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Back in my salad days laboring for the New York Center and Hudson River Railroad Company, I would always keep an eye out to see if he would enter our car before the hour of departure.
“Authors do not create literature; they are consumed by it.”
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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As the 19th century draws to an end, two bookaneers are caught up in a colonial war on Samoa as they compete to steal Robert Louis Stevenson's last manuscript and make a fortune before a new international treaty ends the bookaneers' trade forever.

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