Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: "The Nijmegen Proof"

The Nijmegen Proof: A Romance of Rare Books is an odd little book. Just 650 copies were printed (so sayeth the colophon), and all were signed by the pseudonymous author, S. Barkworth (aka London rare book dealer Arthur Freeman). I'd known of the book for a while, and when our good friends at Colophon had a copy earlier this fall I had to snap it up.

Barkworth's book offers a glimpse into the rough and tumble world of the pre-Internet transatlantic rare book trade, featuring imperious and well-heeled academic acquisitions librarians, book dealers of all stripes, temperaments and levels of scruple from America and the U.K., some good old-fashioned auction-house shenanigans, and a fascinating hunt for what just might be a priceless relic. The well-written characters' joint pursuit of the "Nijmegen Proof" (that is, some scraps of paper believed to be an example of movable-type printing before Gutenberg, executed at the Dutch city of Nijmegen c. 1441) is a wonderful thing to behold.

The novel's written in a style which requires much concentration: nothing is revealed easily, you have to work to understand what's going on, and I loved that about it. It's smart, and satirical, and highly recommended.