Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Judges of the Secret Court - Under the Microscope


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The Judges of the Secret Court, one of those interesting rediscovered books published by the New York Review of Books, is a book about the assassination of President Lincoln. It's a strange, polyphonic sort of novel. It centers on John Wilkes Booth himself, but it spends almost as much time following Edwin Booth, JWB's brother and one of the nation's finest actors. Yet, at the same time, it whirls like a kaleidoscope through the stories and minds of numerous other characters, creating a strange babble of voices that pull the reader first to the death of Lincoln (though only after we have seen some of Lincoln's own personal meditations, as he rides toward the theatre) and then spreading out after the assassination, tracking the ripples of this event and what it means.

This is a slightly odd book. The technique, I think, has some costs, as it can occasionally be difficult to stay engaged with the central characters and the main events of the assassination, the hunt, and the trial that follows. Yet the scattered whirl of voices and images somehow sculpts the event out of the silence of history. The scope widens, the themes multiply, and there is a greater sense of the event and what it means, not just to the Booth brothers, but to the entire country - and to history itself.

It's worth a read if you're interested in American history at all (and I am, oddly enough, a Canadian who was the son of a professor of American history, so sometimes I simply can't resist), or if you're interested in different narrative techniques.

Plus, you know, that's a really kickass cover. Just sayin'. NYRB really know how to put a book together. It even smells good.

7 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Do you always sniff your books?

Theresa Milstein said...

It even smells good - ha! I also sniff my books. That's what unsatisfying about e-readers.

Lincoln and his death never fails to fascinate.

Bryan Russell said...

Sniffing books is mandatory.

maine character said...

Definitely sounds good.

Tried to read a few pages at Amazon, but their excerpt is just for the Introduction - the one part no one reads.

D.G. Hudson said...

Sounds like an interesting book, Bryan.

A tidbit of history for you regarding the assassination:

The doctor, Dr. S. Mudd, who helped J.W. Booth with medical treatment was one of the men jailed in Ft. Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas (approx. 70 mi. west of Key West, Fla.) Suspected with three others of conspiracy, he was sent there before it was completed.

We discovered this on a tour from Key West a few years ago.

Mobley Meadows said...

Books about Lincoln's assassination have been around for decades; but I have just read a book by Steven Roth, "A Night of Horror," that is a fictionalized version of the day of Lincoln's death. It is amazingly historical and researched in great detail. I loved it. Mobley Meadows.
www.mobleymeadows.com

Mobley Meadows said...

The best book I've ever read about Lincoln's assassination is, "A Night of Horror," by Steven Roth.
While it is a fictionalized version of the day of the event, it is so well researched it could be an historical account. I loved it. Mobley Meadows.