"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Novels I truly loved and admired...

by people I don't even know!

The authors are complete strangers to me--except through their wonderful writing. I have so very many author friends and acquaintances, that if I listed any of their books, they (and I) might feel someone was left out. Trust me, it's easier and kinder this way!

All the titles are historical fiction, and in most cases "faction"--fictional works about people who actually lived. (This happens to be the sort of project I'm involved in at the moment...but it's long been a favourite genre.)

The novels are:

The Master by Colm Tóibín, late 19th century. Novelist Henry James is the protagonist. From a writer's perspective, particularly one whose familiar with James's works, it's interesting to spot the connections between his experiences and his novels. This book also reveals the great importance of place in a writer's working life, as James seeks and finds the ideal house for living and working.

Ophelia's Fan by Christine Balint, early to mid 19th century. Harriet Smithson was born in Ireland to family of actors. She met her greatest fame, and the love of her life, in Paris, where she performed Shakespere's tragic heroines. After composer Hector Berlioz falls passionately in love with her, she inspires some of his greatest musical works.

The Diamond by Julie Baumgartner, 17th and 18th and 19th century. The true and imagined story of a famous historical diamond that belonged to the rulers of France, and eventually to Napoleon Bonaparte, a significant presence in the novel. Royalty, social and political upheaval, a massive gemstone--what's not to like?

The Little Balloonist by Linda Donn, late 18th and early 19th century. Sophie Blanchard, married to an aeronaut, was the first female balloonist, in the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon. Napoleon also appears in this book. It's a charming and bittersweet story, beautifully written.

A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss, early 18th century, the second book featuring former pugilist Ben Weaver. He's a fictional character, interacting with real people--thieftaker general Jonathon Wild among them. This is a rich, pungent depiction of the era, and a gripping read. (It's the one that recently kept me up reading through the night, I couldn't wait till the next day to finish it!)

Katherine by Anya Seton, late 14th century. The fictionalised biography of woman whose romance with John of Gaunt changed history. This novel was first recommended to me by my acting coach, a long time ago--when I was in my early teens, I think. Later, while studing Chaucer at college, it was on our reading list. It holds up with every re-reading, and each time I find something new to admire. When Seton passed away--I was in England, and the Times published a marvellous obit--I felt as though I'd lost a close personal friend.

My thanks to all the highlighted authors from a very grateful reader! Books like these are so inspiring to me, as well as entertaining and thought-provoking.

I'm adding these covers to my sidebar, so that after this posting cycles off the main page in due course, they'll remain visible.

***Although I've never met or corresponded with any of these authors, I confess that the literary agent who represents one of them is a member of my own family. I was completely unaware of that fact when I randomly grabbed the book off the bookstore shelf!

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