Longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2022. 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.

The Booker Prize 2022
Published by
Serpent's Tail
Publication date

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Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler

About the Author

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

Karen Joy Fowler on writing Booth

‘Writing Booth took somewhere between 8 to 10 years; I didn’t work continuously so it’s hard to say. But I always read for at least a year before I begin to write, searching for my story, and Booth was no different. I work on the computer; I write in fits and starts. I’ve always wanted a routine, but not enough, apparently, to establish one.’

Read the full interview here.

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

What the judges said

‘What shapes us? And who gets to choose the stories we tell about our place in the world? With an eagle eye and a bone-dry wit, Fowler introduces the Booths, a 19th-century family forged by theatrical ambition and agonising grief within a household steeped in the racism and myth-making of the disunited States. As the novel unfolds, we know - and they don’t - that one day the ninth child, John Wilkes, will step forward with a gun in his hand to bring the narratives of dynasty and country decisively together.’

What the critics said

Jeffrey Ann Goudie, The Boston Globe

‘The climax of the overarching national narrative hangs like a miasma over the novel. We all know the terrible ending. What elevates Booth is the granular texture of what’s beneath the bald facts: the how and the myriad whats and whys, the truths. And there is also Fowler’s trademark dark humor […] If Fowler’s seventh novel occasionally sags from the depth of her prodigious research, Booth is still a massive achievement. In it, Fowler weaves history, family culture, and human cruelties into an insightful reckoning of a past that seems too much a prologue to our American present.’

Barbara Vandenburgh, USA Today

‘What can the inflamed passions, political extremism, stark division and racism of a wounded 19th-century America teach us about our country in its 21st century? In Fowler’s capable hands, plenty, and more than is comfortable … Booth doesn’t hold anyone in judgment; like all the best literature, it seeks to better understand the human heart in all its flawed complexity. It’s a haunting book, not just for all its literal ghosts, but for its suggestion that those ghosts still have not been exorcised from this country.’

Dan Kois, Slate

‘Fowler addresses the issue of writing a historical novel about a historical bad guy in an innovative way. She doesn’t only expand her novel’s palette, telling the decades-spanning story of the entire Booth family, a clan in which John is one among many until the fateful moment he makes himself the family’s—and the nation’s—villain. She makes the audacious decision to bring a historian’s corrective and contextual voice to her historical fiction, pulling the reader out of the 19th century over and over to provide a 21st century perspective on the attitudes and actions of her characters. This makes a bit of a mess of the novel, but also serves as an intriguing new angle at a problem that’s likely to vex historical fiction writers for decades to come.’

Bethany Latham, Booklist

‘Interspersed with the lives of the Booths are cherry-picked Lincoln quotations along with a didactic political history meant to relate events to current politics … Fowler presents an omniscient, bird’s-eye view of these lives, along with a nod to what could be apocryphal. The result is an engrossing portrayal of a nineteenth-century family living through the U.S.’ most turbulent era.’

Alex Clark, The Irish Times

Booth is immensely enjoyable and often exceptionally poignant, especially through its characterisation of the unmarried, dutiful sister Rosalie and her brother Edwin, who himself became a renowned actor. John, from his early days as one of the Baltimore Bully Boys to his self-pitying, petulant rants at his more successful peers, is glimpsed largely elliptically, through the concerns his loving family have for him and, finally, through their deep distress at his fate. It’s an approach that ably demonstrates that if you set aside the urge to solve a puzzle, you’ll come up with far more interesting questions.’

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

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Other nominated books by Karen Joy Fowler