Category Archives: Historical fiction

“The Pick of the Bunch”: Margaret Campbell Barnes, My Lady of Cleves

Anne sought in the folds of her skirt for the gold-handled scissors hanging from her belt. Deftly she snipped off the fattest grape of all and popped it into his watering mouth. He savored it greedily and, after a furtive glance across the room, squeezed her hand with the obscene slyness of an old man […]

“The Light of the World”: Nicola Griffith, Hild

I found Hild shelved in the Fantasy and Science Fiction section at Bookmark, which means I almost didn’t realize they had it in stock, as I don’t usually browse that section. (I was poking around in case they had John Crowley’s Little, Big, which Tom had got me interested in.) I can see why the staff had […]

“The Melody in the Heart of the Universe”: Rose Tremain, Music & Silence

I have heard the melody in the heart of the universe and then lost it. Like Restoration, Rose Tremain’s Music & Silence confounds clichéd expectations about historical fiction. In its own way it has an epic sweep, but there’s nothing of the heroic saga about it. It’s drama under a blanket, a story of kings and queens and […]

“On some book my name will be written”: Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter

“What kings may follow me I do not know, and I do not care. When my day is ended, it is ended. But . . . on some book my name will be written.” — Thorfinn “All hail, Macbeth, that shall be King hereafter!” – Shakespeare, Macbeth I.iii.50 The first 250-300 pages of King Hereafter are pretty […]

“A Kind of Investigation Into a Life”: Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Near the end of Angle of Repose its narrator, retired historian Lyman Ward, is talking with his ex-wife about the book he’s been working on. (Actually, it turns out that he dreamed that he was talking to his ex-wife, but the whole episode, including this conversation, is so unremarkably plausible as a continuation of the story he’s […]

Rose Tremain, Restoration

I really enjoyed Rose Tremain’s Restoration, which an excellent friend promptly posted to me when I needed a bit of cheering up. (Everyone should have a friend like that!) Not that Restoration is very cheerful, but a good novel is always a tonic, isn’t it? And Restoration is awfully good. Like Wolf Hall, it’s a historical novel that is less about […]

Guilty as Charged: Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

There’s a feeling of power in reserve, a power that drives right through the bone, like the shiver you sense in the shaft of an axe when you take it into your hand. You can strike, or you can not strike, and if you choose to hold back the blow, you can still feel inside […]

Robert Graves, I, Claudius: Telling and Showing

I, Claudius is the complete antithesis of the shallowly sentimental historical fiction I’ve been reviewing and complaining about recently. There’s something almost ruthless about Graves’s approach as a historical novelist: he simply refuses to pander to his readers with rhetorical flourishes, dramatic scene setting, even dialogue. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page, rolls by with […]

Summer Reading Update: Some Hits, More Misses

I’m up to six books in my quest to reach thirty this summer. I can’t say I’m off to a very good start. Of these, two were awful, two mediocre, and two were very good. I’ll quickly survey them all here, but I plan to give the best two their own proper posts. The two […]

Catching Up: Bookish Miscellany, with a Special Note on Loins

I haven’t done a lot of focused reading in the past week or so–I blame (but very much welcomed!) my visiting parents, for diverting me with conversation. I also blame my daughter, who celebrated her 10th birthday on the weekend–an occasion involving much festivity but also, in advance, much planning, bustling, and shopping. Not that […]

Recent Comments

I recently took the widely recommended step of securing a “domain of my own” and I am gradually consolidating my online content there, including Novel Readings. I’m posting at both locations for now, but I have disabled comments at this location. You can leave comments on my new site; you may want to update your RSS feeds to follow me from there.

Blog Archive

Categories

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 85 other subscribers

Comments Policy

Comments that contribute civilly and constructively to discussion of the topics raised on this blog, from any point of view, are welcome. Comments that are not civil or constructive will be deleted.

All entries copyright Rohan Maitzen. If you use material from this blog, please give proper credit to the author.