Historical Fiction

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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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Neverhome

An explosion of a novel

In Laird Hunt’s gripping novel Neverhome we meet Constance, aka Ash Thompson, who joins the American civil war disguised as a man. ‘I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic’, Ash says matter-of-factly referring to her mild mannered husband Bartholomew. And no, it’s not my spelling mistake in this opening sentence, it’s Ash’s. Ash is a simple farmwoman who dreams of finding the first lilac in spring. She’s also happens to be a take-no-prisoners sharp shooter. Ash joins the war out of a sense of duty, at least that’s what she tells us. Soon we see the contours of a troubled past in this very human portrayal of a tormented woman in a man’s world.

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The House of Ulloa

Unmissable Spanish classic

I cannot recommend this Spanish classic highly enough. The House of Ulloa is funny, clever, progressive and colourful, written by the feisty and daring Emilia Prado Bazán in 1886 and, luckily, reissued in English recently. We meet the gentle, devout chaplain Julián who’s been asked by Don Manuel, a prominent noble, to clean up the sinful House of Ulloa, the country estate of his unruly nephew, Don Pedro. This hilarious meeting of polar opposites takes place amidst magnificently described Galician landscapes and decrepit aristocratic homes.

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The Signature of All Things

Great storytelling with humour and ambition

I never thought I’d get excited by a novel about botany, but The Signature of All Things proved me wrong. Firstly, Elizabeth Gilbert is an outstanding storyteller: funny, insightful and ambitious. Equally compelling is the novel’s unlikely heroine, Alma Whittaker, a multi-layered and unusual character and a woman with a brilliant scientific brain born in the wrong century.

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