BOOTH: read an extract

16 March 2022

From the Booker-shortlisted, million-copy bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves comes an epic novel about the infamous, ill-fated Booth family.


Junius is the patriarch, a celebrated Shakespearean actor who fled bigamy charges in England, 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 secession and 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 terrible decision that will change the course of history – the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Booth is a riveting novel focused on the very things that bind, and break, a family.

Read an extract below.

Sixteen years pass. The family grows, shrinks, grows. By 1838, the children number at nine, counting the one about to arrive and the four who are dead. Eventually there will be ten.

These children have:

A famous father, a Shakespearean actor, on tour more often than at home.

A paternal grandfather, skinny as a stork, with white hair worn in a single braid, his clothing also fifty years out of fashion, breech trousers and buckle shoes. He’s come from London to help out during their father’s long absences. He was once a lawyer, treasonably sympathetic to the American revolutionaries, enthusiastic for all things American. Visitors to his London house were made to bow before a portrait of George Washington. Now that he lives here, he hates it. He likens the farm to Robinson Crusoe’s island, himself a marooned castaway on its desolate shore. He’s rarely sober, which makes him less helpful than might have been hoped.

An indulgent mother. A dark- haired beauty with retiring manners, she’d once sold flowers from her family nursery on Drury Lane. She’d first seen their father onstage as King Lear and was astonished, when meeting him, to find that he was young and handsome. He’d had to perform the Howl, howl, howl speech right there in the London street before she’d believe he was the same man. “When will you spend a day with me?” he’d asked within minutes of learning her name. “Tomorrow?” and she’d surprised herself by saying yes.

During their brief courtship, he’d sent her ninety- three love letters, pressing his suit with his ambition, his ardor, the poems of Lord Byron, and the promise of adventure. Soon enough, she’d agreed to run away with him to the island of Madeira, and from there to America.

Perhaps adventure was more implied than promised outright. After they’d left their families in England, after they’d had their first child, after they’d arrived in Maryland and leased the farm on a thousand- year lease, after he’d arranged to move the cabin onto it, only then did he explain that he’d be touring without her nine months of every year. For nine months of every year, she’d be left here with his drunken father.

What else could he do? he asked, leaving no pause in which she might answer; he was a master of timing. He needed to tour if they planned to eat. And clearly, she and the baby couldn’t come along. There is nothing worse than an unhappy, complaining shrew for a wife, he’d finished, by way of warning. He didn’t plan on having one of those.

So here she’s been, on the farm, for sixteen years now. For seventeen years, almost without break, she’s been either expecting a baby or nursing one. It will be twenty continuous years before she’s done.

Later, she’ll tell their children it was Lord Byron’s poems that tipped the scales. She’ll mean this as a caution but she’ll know it won’t be taken as such. All her children love a good romance.

None of the children know that they’re a secret. It will come as quite a shock. They’ve no cause for suspicion. Much like the secret cabin, everyone they know knows they’re here.

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