Historical Fiction

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Alias Grace

A chilling true-life murder mystery

Hot on the heals of a successful TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale comes a Netfilx adaptation of Alias Grace, another of Atwood’s best-selling novels. I’d take any excuse to re-read this excellent book, which is still as good today as it was in 1996. It’s based on the true story of Canadian domestic servant Grace Marks who in 1843, at the age of 16, was convicted of murdering her employer Mr Kinnear and fellow housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Atwood’s interest in the case go beyond the murder, of course, and into the dark depths of women’s, particularly poor women’s, standing in society; the prejudices held against them, the sexual abuse and innuendo, the back-street abortions and the assumption that they are all liars. An absolutely riveting read.

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Golden Hill

A brilliant debut novel about New York in its infancy

New York, a small frontier town on the tip of Manhattan Island, 1746. One rainy autumn night, a mysterious, handsome stranger, fresh off the long Atlantic crossing from England, turns up at a counting house on Golden Hill Street in Manhattan. The enigmatic young man has a suspicious yet compelling proposition. From his pocket, he produces what seems to be a promissory note for a thousand pounds that he wishes to cash. An enormous sum of money in 1746, this bill has the power to shake the whole local economy as well as the political establishment. And, amiable and charming though Smith is, he won’t explain who he is or where he comes from, let alone what he is planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.

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One Night in Winter

If your children were forced to testify against you, what terrible secrets would they reveal?

The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore is well known and highly respected for his award-winning non-fiction bestsellers such as Jerusalem, The Romanovs and Stalin. However, this gripping historical novel also proves his expertise as a writer of fiction. A quicker, slimmer read than many of his other works, it is just as involving and darkly exciting.

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The Leopard

Sensual, sensuous and melancholic Italian classic

Ready to escape the grey, cold winter for a few hours? Try this sensual and sensuous Italian classic set in the 1860s amongst the arid hills, frescoed palazzos and turquoise seas of Sicily. It’s the story of the aristocratic Salina family’s decline, of ageing and mortality, of politics and passionate love all mixed up into a fabulous Italian literary feast.

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The Quincunx

Lose yourself in this epic historical novel

I’ll admit right at the beginning of this review that I think this is one of the best historical novels I have ever read. And I’m deeply envious of anyone who hasn’t yet discovered it. You have an enormous treat in store. I first read this epic novel in one long sitting from cover to cover in my early twenties and I’ve returned to it many times over the years, discovering something new on every fresh reading.

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All the Light We Cannot See

A New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I loved this compelling, ambitious novel for several reasons: for Anthony Doerr’s ability to look afresh at this well-trodden period in history (World War II); for his ingenious plot and for his haunting, compelling prose and beautiful imagery. But mostly I loved it because it reminded me of the light and grace we are all capable of embodying. Doerr convinces the reader of the innate good in humanity, even at the most cruel and desolate of times.

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Mister Pip

A wonderfully intense, gem of a book

Set against the backdrop of the civil war that took place on the Papua New Guinea copper-rich pacific island of Bougainville during the early 1990s, Mister Pip is named after the protagonist of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Indeed, Dickens’ plot shapes the entire novel. Written by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and won the Commonwealth Prize in the same year and rightly so as I found it a lyrical, beguiling read.

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The Prophets of Eternal Fjord

Compulsively readable novel about arctic hell hole

If you’re at all disgusted by bodily fluids, don’t even think about reading this book. If you’re not, prepare yourself for a firework of a novel by a master storyteller set in a part of the world which I’m willing to bet you’ve never read anything about before. Kim Leine’s novel The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, set in Greenland during Danish colonial rule, won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013 and is finally out in English.

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Fingersmith

Brilliantly unpredictable Victorian thriller

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, widely considered to be Waters’ best, and recommended to me by tons of people. In true Sarah Waters’ fashion, Fingersmith twists and turns in completely unpredictable ways, it’s creepy, it’s seedy, it’s spooky and it’s the best thriller I’ve read in a long time.

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The Blue Flower

Historical fiction at it's best. A modern classic.

The Blue Flower is based on the true-life love story between the 18th century German philosopher and poet Georg Philipp Friedrich (Fritz) Freiherr von Hardenberg and a young girl, Sophie von Kühn. Sounds dreary? No, it’s not, actually! It’s a great book, thanks to Penelope Fitzgerald’s light, funny and authentic writing. No wonder her horde of fans include Jonathan Franzen, Allan Hollinghurst, Julian Barnes, James Wood…I could go on and on…who all hail this as a modern classic.

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