I go into my library and all history unrolls before me. – Alexander Smith
Over the last few years historical fiction readers have been treated to some amazing books, with Australians leading the way. Authors like Kate Grenville, Kate Morton, Colleen McCullough and Geraldine Brooks are internationally successful writing both Australian history and the history of other countries. There has also been broader recognition of historical fiction with books like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies winning the Man Booker and here in Australia books like All That I Am by Anna Funder and Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears sharing a lot of the big literary prizes over the last 12 months.
There were a lot of historical fiction novels reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012 and today it is my pleasure to spotlight just a few of those.
If we start with just the statistics then the single historical fiction book that received the most reviews as part of the 2012 challenge was Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth with 9 reviews. Set in 17th century France and 16th century Italy, Forsyth takes the stories of 3 different women, and weaves a tale of the times with a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. What is interesting about a few of the books that I will be mentioning today is that many of them cross genres and sit easily within the different definitions. For example, this book it was also featured in the Speculative Fiction round-up yesterday. To get a taste of what reviewers are saying about this book head to Bree’s review or Belle’s review.
One of the exciting things about reading historical fiction for this challenges is that, yes, there are plenty of Aussie authors who write about international history, but there are lots of authors who are writing about our own history too. Another book that received a lot of reviews as part of the challenge was Deborah Burrows’ excellent debut novel, The Stranger in My Street, with 5 reviews. Again, this is another cross-genre novel, this time with crime aspects. I originally come from Perth, and so for me there was not only the strong story but also that additional aspect of reading about home during World War II! I am really looking forward to reading the author’s next book, the cover of which was recently revealed. It is once again set in Perth against the backdrop of the war. See what other reviewers thought of A Stranger in my Street by reading Lauren’s review or Stephanie’s review.
Other books to have received multiple reviews (4) include Hannah and Emil by Belinda Castles, The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman, A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill and Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood, which is the first in the Phryne Fisher mystery series that was so successfully adapted into a TV series last year.
Turning from individual books to individual authors, Kerry Greenwood was well represented in the review stakes with multiple reviews of her backlist, most notably the Phryne Fisher crime series, being posted as part of the challenge. Another author who was very well reviewed but who I must confess to not knowing a lot about prior to this challenge was Sulari Gentill who had 10 reviews posted about her books, mostly of the Rowland Sinclair crime series set in the 1930s. Personally, I am always on the look out for new series to read so this might be a good option for this year’s challenge.
One of the best things about reading historical fiction is finding out about events that are long since forgotten until an author discovers the story and chooses to tell it to us, the readers. For example, did you know that a troupe of little people led by General Tom Thumb visited Australia in the 1870s to a sensational reaction? Jane Sullivan did, and she chose to tell that story in her book Little People (reviewed by Sally). Did you know that there was a train that travelled across the country during the Great Depression, trying to teach farmers the latest scientific methods for improving their harvest yields? Carrie Tiffany tells the story in her book Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Thinking (reviewed by Tony). Or how about a female bushranger? Courtney Collins’ The Burial tells this story (reviewed here by Annette Hughes). Perhaps an interracial relationship between an American soldier and Australian girl during WWII is more your taste. In that case, you might like Love in the Years of Lunacy by Mandy Sayer (as reviewed by several participants including Carolyn Sully).
Hopefully with just these few mentions, I have been able to show that there are a range of great historical fiction reads that are available, whether it be straight historical fiction, or genre-crossing novels, full of both well known events and the more obscure, focusing on both international and Australian history!
If you are interested in seeing what other historical fiction books were reviewed as part of the challenge, please head over to the Historical Fiction Weebly page for 2012!
I look forward to exploring the past with you all and bringing you highlights in historical fiction as part of the AWWC for 2013!
Marg has long been an avid reader of all genres but especially Historical Fiction. She has very strong memories of reading through the entire collection of Jean Plaidy novels in the school library and loves to read about all different eras and locations. Marg has been blogging about all different genres and other things at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader for more than 7 years, and was a founding member of Historical Tapestry, a group blog that has been focusing only on Historical Fiction for more than 5 years. You can tweet to her either @margreads or @historytapestry.
Excellent wrap up Marg and a great quote from Alexander Smith. It’s so interesting to me to see books appearing in multiple genres – I’m glad the boundaries are quite blurry in a way. .
I think I’ll be starting my AWW reading with a historical fiction novel this year…I bought The Light Between Oceans on sale and it seems a good place to start.
I need to read Light Between Oceans!
The boundaries are very blurry at times, and yes, a lot of the time that it is good.
Bitter Greens was my favourite read of the year. Great wrap up!
Thanks Shelleyrae! i am going to have to make some time to finish reading Bitter Greens!
Another great wrap up, thanks Marg. I’m so glad you mentioned the Carrie Tiffany. I reckon that’s a real little treasure.
I read it the year after it was shortlisted (or was it longlisted) for the Miles Franklin and really liked it. Still haven’t read Mateship for Birds though.
No I haven’t either … but it’s here in the pile!