Sunday Salon – Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has long been a favourite genre and although these days I seem to be reading more crime fiction, it still has an irresistible draw for me. So, I was really pleased when my son gave me The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman as a Mother’s Day present today. It’s about the life and times of Richard III. I find Richard a fascinating person, accused of killing his nephews and I’ve read about him from Shakespeare’s play, Richard III to Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time and Alison Weir’s non-fictional The Princes in the Tower. Now I can become immersed in the period of the Wars of the Roses to Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

More historical fiction came to my attention this morning when I read that the Walter Scott Prize Shortlist has been announced. This is the 2nd Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Last year’s prize was won by Hilary Mantel for her novel, Wolf Hall. the winner will be announced on June 18th at the Borders Book Festival at Melrose.

The shortlist for the 2011 award is:

  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • C by Tom McCarthy
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor
  • Heartstone by C J Sansom
  • To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams

The only one of these I’ve read is – Heartstone by C J Sansom. This is Sansom’s fifth book in his 16th century England, Matthew Shardlake series. Heartstone is set in 1545 as England goes to war with France. I thought it was good but not as good as his earlier books, but it is very good on the details of life in Tudor times. Sansom’s research is excellent, his characters are well drawn and the atmosphere and sense of place are convincing.

Andrea Levy’s The Long Song is the next book for discussion at my Book Club at the end of this month, so I’ll be reading it soon. I haven’t read any of Andrea Levy’s four earlier books so I don’t know what to expect. It’s set in Jamaica as slavery came to an end. At the back of my copy there is Bonus Material – Andrea Levy writes about how she came to write The Long Song. I think I’ll start by reading that.

I know very little about the other books, but as I wasn’t too keen on Tom McCarthy’s Remainder and I gave up twice with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, both of which I know other people rated highly, I may pass on those.  That leaves Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light which does sound appealing and I’ve downloaded a sample on Kindle to find out more. This article in The Scotsman has more details.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Salon – Historical Fiction”

  1. ‘Heartstone’ is the only one I’ve read as well, and I’m very interested to hear that you didn’t find it as satisfactory as the others, because this was the unanimous decision of our library group and they are all great Sansom fans. I think he might need to look to a new series to give his work a bit of a refresh.

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  2. Margaret – Happy Mothering Day! You got a lovely gift! I like historical fiction, too, and I’ll be interested in finding out who wins the Scott prize. Interesting choices there…

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  3. “C” is a clever book. I don’t like to dismiss the hard work of others, but then I don’t like to lie either, so I have to say I really struggled with it. Fans of the historical novel who are also impressed with the show-off tendencies and sexual obsessions of the contemporary literary novel may find it more attractive than I did. I’m a big fan of the Shardlake series, though I agree this latest installment is probably the weakest of them. I found it the least plausible of the series and lacking somewhat in pace. Meanwhile, as someone with an interest in late Tsarist Russia, the Andrew Williams book sounds appealing, so thanks for bringing to my attention.

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    1. Thanks David – from your description and my own impression of it I doubt very much that I will read ‘C’ – maybe just look through it if I see it in a bookshop.

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  4. Your son has bought you a gem. The Sunne in Splendour was the book that made me a reader of historical fiction when I first read it in my teens.

    I haven’t heard of the Walter Scott Prize before and I have read none of the shortlisted books, but it looks like an interesting selection. Another prize to watch.

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