Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Fiction


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is to do with historical settings so I thought I’d look at some of my favourite works of historical fiction.

I like historical fiction but I’m quite picky so I don’t read as much as I’d like.  I don’t like books that have horrifically tragic storylines, women bursting out of bodices or swirly, romantic writing on the front cover.  I do like fiction presented in an accessible but reasonably accurate way, based on at least some evidence, and with a believable and well researched historic setting. See? I’m a difficult girl to please.

Having said all that, these rules aren’t hard and fast and there are several books that I like because they’re not what I would normally want to read:

1, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I guess this is best described as a sort of saga set around the construction of a fictional cathedral in 12th century Wiltshire. That makes it sound rubbish. It’s actually brilliant. Ignore me.

2, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. An obvious exception to my usual rejection of any book I might find upsetting. There aren’t many books that punch you in the stomach quite like this one.

3, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’m often a bit wary of fiction based on the lives of real historical figures so this was a revelation. I love the way that Hilary Mantel takes a much-despised man and makes him weirdly compelling. 

4, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. There are no bad books or films set in revolutionary France, that’s my motto.

5, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Based on the true story of Grace Marks, a Toronto servant accused of murdering her employer in 1843… This description is much more exciting than my pitiful attempt above. I need to reread this as I think I’ve forgotten a lot of it.

6, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This has a believable historical setting and magic. Seriously, what could be better? It feels like Dickens.

7, Dissolution by CJ Sansom. If there’s a fictional murder in a monastery then I will absolutely 100% want to read about it. This probably isn’t one of the best (I like The Name of the Rose and the Cadfael books more) but it’s gripping and definitely one of the most readable.

8, Arthur and George by Julian Barnes. It’s quite nice to read a bit about the man behind Sherlock Holmes for a change. This is a fictionalised account of Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in the real case of an innocent man accused in a racist conspiracy.

9, The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier. This isn’t really my sort of thing usually (see comment re bursting out of bodices above) but I got completely swept off my feet by this book. I read the entire thing in one afternoon.

10, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Is this a lazy/obvious choice? I know everyone (myself included) is sick of me going on about it all the time but it really is an (almost) perfect historical novel.

Next week’s TTT is Valentines themed so Lord knows what I’m going to do about that. Best get my thinking cap on….

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