The Antiquary, Scott's personal favorite among his novels, is characteristically wry and urbane. A mysterious young man calling himself 'Lovel' travels idly but fatefully toward the Scottish seaside town of Fairport. Here he is befriended by the antiquary Jonathan Oldbuck, who has taken refuge from his own personal disappointments in the obsessive study of miscellaneous history. Their slow unraveling of Lovel's true identity will unearth and redeem the secrets and lies which have devastated the guilt-haunted Earl of Glenallan, and will reinstate the tottering fortunes of Sir Arthur Wardour and his daughter Isabella.
First published in 1816 in the aftermath of Waterloo, The Antiquary deals with the problem of how to understand the past so as to enable the future. Set in the tense times of the wars with revolutionary France, it displays Scott's matchless skill at painting the social panorama and in creating vivid characters, from the earthy beggar Edie Ochiltree to the loquacious and shrewdly humorous Antiquary himself.
Apparently The Antiquary was Scott's favourite among his novels, and I can see why; it might be mine too. This is a fun story of family secrets and hidden identities, and given the studious nature of the titular character, it is also chock full of literary and historical references. Sometimes I find Scott's writing a little tedious to wade through, especially with all the phonetically rendered Scottish accents, but this one wasn't too bad in that respect, which is how I managed to finish the book so quickly. (in half the time I'd anticipated). If you are already a fan of Scott's writing, you'll enjoy this, but I also believe it would not be the worst place to start if you are coming to his works for the first time. 4.5 stars from me.