I am loving the increasing number of short story/novellas being published as stand alones. Rankin’s The Traveling Companion is part of a series of such stories, Bibliomysteries: Short Tales about Deadly Books. In a strange twist of events, this became the second book in a row that I’ve read that features Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris and both just after rediscovering a photograph I purchased at an art fair years ago of the famous storefront. Eerie, right?
Robert Hastie is a Scottish scholar who has escaped the strict Church of Scotland atmosphere of home for the more libertine life of Paris. He works part-time in the Shakespeare and Company bookshop for Mr. Whitman in exchange for a place to stay. He calls his sweetheart back home home regularly and he keeps touch with his parents through perfunctory calls from the public phone on the street and postcards. Hastie is thinking about his return to Scotland in the fall and his coming doctoral program and research on Robert Louis Stevenson, whose visits to Paris had drawn Hastie abroad. He is, he tells his employer, interested in the impact of Stevenson’s health on his writing. Later we discover it’s his mental health that intrigues Hastie.
All thoughts of home flee when Hastie visits a bookseller, Benjamin Turk, as a favor for his employer, Mr. Whitman. Turk draws Hastie into a conversation about Stevenson and begins an intellectual seduction that leads Hastie further and further from home and closer and closer to his intellectual idol, Stevenson, through the promise of a never-before-seen work, The Travelling Companion, forerunner to Jekyll and Hyde.
Books about books are dreamy for geeky readers. We identify with fellow book geeks while reassuring ourselves that we are not that geeky. We thrill to the idea of unknown works or secrets buried in the pages of well-known tales. Rankin gives us all of this as well as the violence and drama we should expect from a story with Jekyll and Hyde at its heart. And it’s all consumable in a long read before bed. In fact, best consumed this way.
Thanks to NetGalley and Bibliomysteries for an advanced copy for review.