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Booker Longlist: Booth – Karen Joy Fowler

Book 2 – reviewed by panelists Book Worm, Nicole, Susie and Jen. Rated by Tracy.

Karen Joy Fowler is the New York Times-bestselling author of three short story collections and seven novels, including The Jane Austen Book Club.

Synopsis from Booker Prize website:

Karen Joy Fowler’s epic novel about an ill-fated family of thespians, drinkers and dreamers, whose most infamous son is destined to commit a terrible and violent act.

Junius is the Booth patriarch. A celebrated Shakespearean actor who fled bigamy charges in England, he is both a mesmerising talent and a man of terrifying instability. As his children grow up in a remote farmstead in 1830s rural Baltimore, the country draws ever closer to the boiling point of civil war.

Of the six Booth siblings who survive to adulthood, each has their own dreams they must fight to realise – but it is Johnny who makes the shocking decision that will change the course of history.

Nicole’s Thoughts: 

My appreciation for this book grew in retrospect, especially after reading the Authors Note.  It answered all the questions I had while reading the book.  Like, why are we focused so much on the family?  

Though this was historical, it sadly felt like contemporary politics.  It was clear (again author’s note) where this author falls politically and I find myself wondering her beliefs infused the story or if when you boil it down politics are just as bad now as then.  Worse?  A bit of both, I suppose.

I think this was an interesting way to tell this story, and I appreciated the inspiration.  While there were times during the book I was a bored, in the end it delivered what it set out to.  I don’t know why I feel like the Author’s Note is a spoiler, LOL … But I don’t feel it’s my place to say.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 14/20

Jen’s Thoughts: Unfortunately for this book, I read it after The Colony and as a result it probably suffered from that comparison in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book. It’s well written, tackles an interesting subject matter, and is an engaging read and fast-paced read. It’s the sort of book that you can curl up with in front of the fire and have an engaging time. But for me, that was it. It’s solid historical fiction (not a favorite genre of mine) and will appeal more broadly to readers than will books like The Colony. But will it stay with me? Make me reflect on philosophical, social, moral questions? Probably not. And for me, that’s kind of the point of a Booker list.

Writing quality: 3/5 (to clarify: this was a very well written book. But I took points off because for me the style wasn’t anything particularly novel).
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 14/20

BookWorm’s Thoughts:  I read this way back in April and while I enjoyed it and appreciated learning about the Booth family I didn’t see it as Booker material. Looking at it now I suspect it was chosen for how the story is told, instead of concentrating on Lincoln or John Wilkes Booth the book explores the history of the tragedy through the lens of other people, the picture of John Wilkes is built up by looking at his family and Lincoln is shown through news clip.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 14/20

Susie’s Thoughts: If you are looking for a fictionalised account of the life of John Wilkes Booth, you will be sorely disappointed in Karen Joy Fowler’s latest offering. It wasn’t the motivation for picking it up; in fact I probably would have avoided it, being that I generally have an aversion to non-fiction and fiction that dresses itself up as non-fiction. I picked this up many months ago, before the longlist, as I had enjoyed We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves immensely. It’s a family saga, which for me is a big tick. I love them. Give me a Franzenesque saga any day. I opted for the audiobook, and can say that the narrator did a marvellous job of bringing each character to life. I found it entertaining enough, yet it was missing something, and given its length it did sink into tedium at times. That being said, the prose was often beautiful, and the level of detail demonstrates how well Fowler researched the time and the family. I wondered while listening if the fact that I am Australian impacted upon my interest in the subject matter. This Aussie’s rating ended up being slightly about average, and I would be surprised to see it take out the prize. 

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 2.5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11.5/20

Ratings:

Tracy’s Ratings

Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 13/20

Rankings

  1. The Colony 18.9
  2. Booth 13.3

What do you think? Is it worth a ….. shot?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. pbtanita #

    I want to check this out mostly because of the Baltimore setting, but you’ve definitely lowered my expectations so I’m pretty much going to look at it as a fun read and not much else.

    Like

    August 6, 2022

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