The Bastard Boy


On a quest for his lost nephew an eighteenth-century Englishman is confronted with the upheavals of history and forced to question his most fundamental ideas about liberty and slavery, savagery and civilization.

Ned Gudgeon is asked to find the bastard child his brother Daniel fathered in America during the Seven Years War. Ned agrees, and sets sail for the colonies — only to find them in a state of growing unrest. Following the few clues he has, he travels first to a Carolina plantation, where he helps two slaves to escape; to Mount Vernon, to see Daniel's former brother-officer, George Washington; and then across the Appalachians, into the wild 'back country' of the frontier — where, after a series of increasingly perilous adventures, with settlers and bandits, visionaries and murderers, land-speculators and American Indians, he finally discovers the startling truth about the 'bastard boy'.

Both a mystery and a gripping adventure story, The Bastard Boy also dramatizes a crucial but neglected moment in our history, and the powerful philosophical ideas that shaped it.

The Bastard Boy was long-listed for the 2006 IMPAC prize.

Praise for The Bastard Boy

'Gudgeon's story has parallels with the travels of Lemuel Gulliver ... but whereas Swift resorts to brutal satire, Wilson is more contemplative, more interested in philosophical questions about how identity is constrained and altered by experience ... [His] painstakingly crafted metafictional effects ... continually offer new vistas of insight into the novel's interweaving of liberty and captivity ... This exhilaratingly ambitious novel ... offers serious insights into the relationship we all have today with history, and with freedom.'
The Times Literary Supplement

'A powerfully imagined and gripping evocation of the violent world of revolutionary America and Georgian England. James Wilson has administered a massive blood transfusion to the historical novel. The Bastard Boy raises the form to a level not seen in English literature in this generation.'
Ian McIntyre, author of Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns and Hester: the Remarkable Life of Doctor Johnson's 'Dear Mistress'

'A modern classic deserving of a wide readership from the South West of England to the Midwest of America.'
Waterstone's Quarterly

'Ned's journey is a spiritual as well as physical one, so that it may transcend topicality and speak to us now ... Ultimately, for all its derring-do and mystery ... this intelligent, stimulating novel is about the serious issue of ownership — of an identity, of an inheritance, of a piece of property, of a consciousness ... In each case the question is posed: whose story is it to tell? The 18th century would have no problem answering that question, but from our post-slavery, post-revolution perspective, things are not so black and white.'
The Sunday Herald

'At key moments — in the punishment of slaves, in the retribution taken by 'the Indians' — we are not allowed any comfortable division of black and white, good and bad, villain and hero. Instead, we accompany the fictional writer on this 'journey of life itself' as he is divested of inert prejudices and received ideas, discovering his emotional identity in the act of reflecting on the significance of his personal history.'
The Bristol Review of Books

Cover of The Bastard Boy

Faber and Faber (20 May 2002)
ISBN-10: 0571202764

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