In the latest in her series on Themes for The Substantive, Joanne Sheppard writes about Books on Historical Fiction, including works by Hilary Mantel, Michel Faber, Diana Norman and AS Byatt.
Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies, a sequel to her Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, has recently arrived in bookshops in a flurry of hype. I haven’t read it yet, so I couldn’t say whether the excitement about its publication is justified, but frankly, if it’s even half as compelling a read as Wolf Hall, it will be worthy of any praise heaped upon it.
James Wood, a professor of literary criticism at Harvard University and also a reviewer of books for the New Yorker, recently claimed that the historical fiction is “a somewhat gimcrack genre not exactly jammed with greatness.” I don’t know anything about James Wood, and based on that statement I don’t believe I want to, but I rather wonder what his definition of “greatness” is.
In fairness, Wood did like Wolf Hall, at least – and rightly so. Wolf Hall is one of those historical novels that manages to be both intimate, minute in focus and yet also broad in scope. Continue reading…