The Brothers Boswell by Philip Baruth
Samuel Johnson and James Boswell are well known literary figures and friends. James Boswelll’s brother John is less widely known. It was the combination of a novel about two authors I didn’t know very well combined with an unstable, hidden brother that intrigued me immediately when I was offered a review copy of Philip Baruth’s novel entitled The Brothers Boswell. I selected this novel for the Historical Fiction Lover’s book club in September, coinciding with Johnson’s 200th birthday. Baruth wrote a wonderful guest post in May in preparation for reading his novel. I was happy to crack the book open when September rolled around.
While reading the novel, I learned quite a bit about the Johnson and Boswell. I didn’t end up enjoying the read as much as I had anticipated, though. As I started reading, I found it difficult to get in rhythm with the language. After the first few chapters I was able to read more comfortably and the story started to pick up when John arrived on the scene. The potential of what might happen with John as he tracks his brother and Johnson like unsuspecting rats in a London maze kept me reading despite the slow going. I found the sections directly about James Boswell the most difficult to read. I did not care for him at all. I found him nearly repulsive in his own self-importance. In fact, I was almost hoping he’d find his comeuppance at the hands of his younger brother. Unfortunately, the conclusion didn’t pay off for me. While this novel might appeal to those with more intimate knowledge of Johnson and Boswell, I wasn’t the right reader.
I want to thank Soho Press for sending me a review copy of this novel.