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The Crack Magazine

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Book of the Month: Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler scored a huge worldwide hit with ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’, a family drama with an audacious mid-story twist. Her long-awaited new novel is even better. It’s another family drama (cum saga), this time set in the US in the mid-19th century. Driving the narrative is the non-fictional Booth family, which is presided over by patriarch Junius – a celebrated Shakespearean actor feted on both sides of the Atlantic. A towering talent, he’s also a man given to eccentric behaviour and wherever he finds himself, tales abound. Of his many children – who survive into adulthood – each has their own dreams. Most of his sons move into acting, with various degrees of success, but one of them would go on to become more famous for something else. On 15 April 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. This novel reminded me of Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘Hamnet’. For while O’Farrell’s book had the hook of being about Shakespeare’s son – who died young – it wasn’t, ultimately, about Shakespeare. Similarly, ‘Booth’ isn’t about John Wilkes Booth. It’s a slice of social history, subtly evoking the horrors of slavery – then legal – and touching on the fanatical populism that kept such a system in place. You don’t have to look too hard to find such echoes today. RM

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