The Brothers Boswell


In 1763 John Boswell, brother of writer James Boswell, stalks his older sibling down the Thames with sinister intent. John has recently been released from a Plymouth mental hospital and accuses his brother of hiding him from his esteemed friends—most notably his new friend, the author of the famous Dictionary, Samuel Johnson. Both Boswell boys grew up in Scotland reading the dictionary and playing word games with the definitions. James now seeks acceptance as a writer in England. His incredible charm fascinates the literary giant, Johnson, and John is desperate to join their inner circle. With madness always lurking in his fevered mind, John packs two golden pistols and plans to kidnap both men to demand retribution.

The river excursion and kidnapping frame flashbacks into John’s boyhood and troubled relationship with his brother. Part of the story is told from James’s point of view, which helps illuminate his struggles in London society. James Boswell will go on to fame as the biographer of Samuel Johnson. This novel’s prose is beautiful, never plodding and shows what good writing can accomplish. The dénouement is dragged out a little too long. An author’s note is needed at the end to explain which details are true events and which are not, but the novel is a literary excursion in itself.

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12 of the best stories selected from the 2012 Historical Novel Society Short Story Award







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