Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Super-Literary HF

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Super-Literary HF

Post by Margaret » Tue November 16th, 2010, 7:26 pm

Does anybody here read the super-literary type of historical fiction? I'm not thinking so much of novels like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, which was certainly literary but used a pretty standard storytelling format. I'm thinking more of the novel I just read, The Elephant's Journey by Portuguese writer José Saramago (see review), and other novels that play around with an unusual storytelling style. The Elephant's Journey is told chronologically, but it's a very untraditional narrative in other respects. The closest I can come to describing the style is stream-of-consciousness, but the narrator isn't any of the characters - it seems to be the author himself, because he knows about events later in history than the 16th century journey of the story and makes side comments from time to time when such later events are relevant in some way; he's mostly an observer, but slips into the story in a mystical sort of way at one point. There are no quotation marks for dialogue and almost no paragraph breaks, which might have turned the novel into a wallbanger for me, except that the voice is so witty and interesting.

Another novel that would fit into this category might be The Devil's Dream, a novel about Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest (see review). It uses a less traditional storytelling style by departing from the convention of telling the story more-or-less chronologically. Instead, it moves around in time, mainly circling around one crucial, traumatic event. Again, I wouldn't normally enjoy a novel told in a non-chronological style, but this one worked brilliantly for me.

It's hard for me to think of very many more. Contemporary novels may be a lot more likely to use unusual literary structures than historicals. Has anyone here read others? Enjoyed them? Wallbanged them?
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue November 16th, 2010, 8:05 pm

The only one I can think of is Bridge over San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. In his novel, a Peruvian priest sees a hanging bridge breaking and five people get flung into the abyss. So in order to find out why God chose just those five people, at just that moment, he goes to research the lives of all five.
I don't know if I enjoyed it or not. I read it in high school as and example of a converging plot style -- but I don't think I've ever read any others of that style. I suppose your Civil War novel might be another of those.

Usually if a book has any scent of artsy or contrived, I avoid it. I want fiction to be fiction, straight up. I read plenty of other things for morals, philosophy, and information.

User avatar
Ludmilla
Bibliophile
Posts: 1346
Joined: September 2008
Location: Georgia USA

Post by Ludmilla » Tue November 16th, 2010, 8:08 pm

If you liked The Elephant's Journey, you should definitely check out Saramago's Baltasar and Blimunda. It's been over a decade since I read it, but it's on my list of books I need to re-read in order to gain a better understanding of what I read to begin with. Haunting, haunting imagery!

Some others that come to mind:
Vonnegut's Slaugthehouse-Five (WWII)

Some of Louise Erdrich's books might qualify. Quite a few of them open with tales from previous generations that have had momentous consequences for the current (contemporary) generation. The Antelope Wife is a good example of one. The threads of the past are very much alive in the present.

Several by Italo Calvino: To start with, The Castle of Cross Destinies (a Chaucer-like structure to the story with travelers' stories told via tarot cards) or Invisible Cities (conversations between Marco Polo and Kubla Khan interspersed with interludes about the cities -- Calvino is quite fond of playing around with stories within stories).

User avatar
Divia
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4435
Joined: August 2008
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Post by Divia » Tue November 16th, 2010, 8:29 pm

Nah. I just want the commerical stuff. :)
News, views, and reviews on books and graphic novels for young adult.
http://yabookmarks.blogspot.com/

User avatar
wendy
Compulsive Reader
Posts: 592
Joined: September 2010
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Contact:

Post by wendy » Tue November 16th, 2010, 9:06 pm

I love anything and everything by Toni Morrison. Have any of you read her Paradise? It's artsy and difficult - but what a buzz it gives me everytime I re-read it.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Posts: 1649
Joined: May 2010
Location: California

Post by Michy » Tue November 16th, 2010, 9:19 pm

I've read very little in the way of literary works, so I guess I would have to say it's probably not my cuppa tea -- like MLE, I like my reading material to be pretty straightforward. As for "super-literary" -- if I ever ventured to try something in that category it would probably fly against the wall within the first few pages.

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue November 16th, 2010, 9:19 pm

I read her Song of Solomon and it was interesting. Since the venue was so different for me from the get-go (Black urban culture in an East-coast city--which is a culture shock in itself, compared to easy-going west-coast urban areas) set in the early part of the last century.

I enjoyed it, although I never could quite figure out what it was that the slave ancestor, Solomon, actually DID--or didn't he? Fantasy or metaphor? But I do remember it, and considering it's been more than twenty years, that's one thing in its favor.

User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Post by Margaret » Tue November 16th, 2010, 10:42 pm

Some of Louise Erdrich's books might qualify. Quite a few of them open with tales from previous generations that have had momentous consequences for the current (contemporary) generation. The Antelope Wife is a good example of one. The threads of the past are very much alive in the present.
I like Erdrich. She's certainly a literary writer, but I don't know that I'd call her super-literary in the sense of violating the usual storytelling norms. Your mention of her reminds me of another novel I keep meaning to reread and review: Grass Dancer by Susan Power. It's a kind of family saga, but instead of going from the first generation to the next and on down the line, it starts with a girl's life in the present on a Sioux Indian reservation, and goes backwards to her mother, then her grandmother, and so on. Non-chronological novels can be confusing, but I didn't find this one confusing at all. The structure made a lot of sense to me, because we do tend to experience our family history in reverse like this.

I loved Toni Morrison's Beloved. It's perfectly chronological and doesn't omit any of the normal structural stuff like quotation marks and paragraph breaks. What makes it super-literary is the way it suggests the ghostly presence of the main character's dead daughter. I wouldn't call it a fantasy novel at all, because there's not a speck of romanticism in it, and I wouldn't even call it magical realism - it just doesn't have that tone. But it's definitely surreal, and chillingly so.

I read something by Calvino that was a spin on the Tristan & Isolde legend. It was interesting in some ways, but I didn't really care for it, because it never hooked me emotionally. Yes, I'd say he's weird enough to fit the super-literary category!
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

G. Alvin Simons
Reader
Posts: 70
Joined: November 2009
Location: Florida

Umberto Eco?

Post by G. Alvin Simons » Tue November 16th, 2010, 11:49 pm

I've read Baudolino & The Name of the Rose & didn't understand either one. That's usually a good sign for me that it's "literary." :D

User avatar
Kveto from Prague
Compulsive Reader
Posts: 919
Joined: September 2008
Location: Prague, Bohemia

Post by Kveto from Prague » Wed November 17th, 2010, 2:25 am

i loved Bauldolino, especially the first chapter. but it really is a mindshag :-) I remember trying to explain what it was about without giving away details. almost impossible.

I was thinking about this topic recently too, margaret. how few hf stories are told in non-linear fashion. i guess its a product of the medium of history

Post Reply

Return to “General Discussion”