Since we last spoke I’ve been reading almost entirely historical fiction – or histfic as it tends to be called.
But what is historical fiction? Naturally, I went down the google rabbit hole and found that aside from being set in a particular historical time, histfic can be stories about:
- real events and fictional people
- fictional events and real people
- real events and real people
- fictional events and fictional people
Given that I’ve always been interested in history, fictional stories about the period help bring the facts to life and bring colour to the period and the people and behaviours and norms that inhabited that time. It’s in this that (for me) the appeal of histfic really is – especially if I know that the events and the characters are real. It’s why I adore TV shows like The Crown. Even if it’s not accurate (and we all know that they’ve been a tad creative with dates and event sequences) I like to think that it could be. I like to think that the words they say are words they might have said, that the way they reacted are ways they might have reacted.
My first three reads this month – all by Kate Quinn – were based on both real events and real people. Some events and characters are real, some are created, and some are embellished, but all were excellent reads that sent me down numerous rabbitholes as I googled the events and the characters involved.
As with all of Quinn’s novels, women are brought out of the shadows of war and away from the homefront and thrust into front-line positions beside men. In The Alice Network Eve Gardiner risks her life in the north of France as a spy; The Diamond Eye sees Mila Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian historian, transformed when the Nazis invade Ukraine and Russia into a sniper with over 300 kills under her belt ; and in The Huntress, Nina Borisovna is a pilot with the Russian Night Witches — so named by the Germans because they flew their ancient wooden biplanes by night to drop bombs on enemy encampments.
The Alice Network, set in WW1 is based on the true life of a WWI woman spy, Louise de Bettignies, and the spy network known as the Alice Network that existed in German-occupied France and Belgium.
The Diamond Eye is based on the true story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian woman who fought in World War II as a sniper. Her story, her visit to America, and her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt is a matter of record – Quinn brings it to life and embellishes it with a plot to assassinate President Roosevelt.
As much as I enjoyed The Alice Network and The Diamond Eye, The Huntress stayed with me long after I finished the book – although that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it more.
This one takes place in dual timelines – during the war and in the aftermath of the war with the backdrop of the Nuremburg trials. It’s the story of a ruthless Nazi war criminal known as Die Jägerin (The Huntress) who escapes to the United States in the wake of the war to start a new life in Boston, and the individuals who take it upon themselves to bring her to justice.
I rounded my histfic reading for the month off with the first two novels in the Billie Walker mystery series by Tara Moss.
Set in post-WW2 Sydney, Billie Walker runs a private inquiry agency (in Australia at the time the term private investigator was not allowed). Stylish, capable and fiercely independent, Billie is a character I’m looking forward to getting to know much beter.
Running through this one is also the theme of war criminals who somehow have managed to flee and start a new life elsewhere.
An Island Wedding, by Jenny Colgan
Anything by Jenny Colgan is an autobuy for me and this latest – which takes us back to the Scottish island of Mure -is no exception.
Liquid History – An Illustrated Guide to London’s Greatest Pubs, by John Warland
I’m in the process of designing another London pub crawl for when we’re there in late October. After all, who can forget the great Twelve Pubs of Christmas Monopoly Board pub crawl/walking tour (with fun facts at every stop) from December 2019? (You can find the posts here and here.)
Anyways, this book is essential research.
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
A re-read for me, we’ve just finished reading this one in book club. I did, of course, then have to rewatch (for the umpteenth time – this being one of my top 5 all-time favourite movies) the 1995 movie with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in the title roles. It truly does capture the novel beautifully and as always I was in floods of tears and sobbing almost as hard as Elinor was in the 2nd last scene.
Speaking of adaptations, I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth and watched the Netflix movie, Persuasion. While it absolutely doesn’t mirror the book (and the reviews have been terrible), I found myself enjoying the modern language against the sumptuous sets and costumes.
Richard E Grant was fabulous, Henry Goulding should play way more romantic heroes, Mary Musgrove was exactly as I would have pictured her, and I’ve already forgotten whoever it was that played Frederick Wentworth (so not worth waiting for IMHO). As for Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliott? Even though Austen wrote her as the most sensibly mature of her characters, I think the younger Jane might have liked Anne to be a tad more ironic and playful. In short, I didn’t hate it and liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
Deb, Donna, Sue and I would love you to share what you’ve been reading. If you have a favourite spin-off or adaptation, I’d love to hear about that too. The linky is below – and it’s open until Monday evening (AEST).