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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.
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Margaret
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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.
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Post by Margaret » Fri November 19th, 2010, 12:52 am

Peter Ezerhazy's Celestial Harmonies is my literary HF bête noire. I've had a couple of goes at it, but haven't managed to finish it.
Oh, gosh - I had a go at this one, myself. I think I may have finished it, but I was thoroughly confused all the way through! This may be another example of an author from a formerly Soviet country having developed a habit of obscurity in order to get past the censors. Formerly Soviet readers probably have more fun with this stuff than those of us less used to reading inside out and upside down between the lines. Not just super-literary, I would say, but super-ultra-hyper-literary!

I'm thoroughly in agreement with Katherine about the great appeal of clarity! Though I always enjoy a few subtle threads to be discovered in a story that appears completely clear and accessible on the surface.
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

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Katherine Ashe
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Post by Katherine Ashe » Fri November 19th, 2010, 5:26 am

Subtle threads are very welcome when the reader is on familiar ground, but in HF one is so often dealing with a physical world that is unfamiliar and the implications of which are not readily apparent, a mindset that is foreign, and a social system that dictates behaviors that would seem bizarre in todays' world, that dear reader will often need all the clarity he can be given.
Suspense, all the driving forces that keep the reader turning pages and unable to put the book down, must be there too (hopefully). And in good writing they're achieved without need of obscurity.
That's an interesting observation about former Soviet writers and their taste for convolution -- likely from their former necessity.

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Katherine Ashe
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Post by Katherine Ashe » Fri November 19th, 2010, 5:29 am

I'd be very happy to post a picture here if somebody would tell me how.

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Fri November 19th, 2010, 1:54 pm

With regard to politically oppressed authors trying to get by their censors:

Ismail Kadare's The Siege (about a fictional siege by the Turks in 15th C Albania) is an example of one of those novels that uses the past to serve as a critical allegory on the present. The translator of Kadare's book had this to say in the Afterword:
...all these details make the Ottoman world, ostensibly the image of Albania's Other, merge into an evocation of the People's Republic Kadare could not possibly tackle directly. In a magical way that perhaps only great writers can achieve, Kadare's Turks are at one and the same time the epitome of what we are not, and a faithful representation of what we have become.
Now that I think about it, David Stacton is another author I've read who is fond of inserting the authorial voice to pass judgment on the characters in his books. The one I read was about the Spanish Conquest of the Maya... I realized after reading it that I need to be in a certain frame of mind to digest Stacton's other novels (a few of which I have in the TBR). In Stacton's case, his use of using the past is more in the way of making bitter commentary about human nature (very scornful and philosophical in tone, with very little dialogue).
Last edited by Ludmilla on Fri November 19th, 2010, 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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wendy
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Post by wendy » Fri November 19th, 2010, 2:57 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]Don't know if I'd call him super-literary, but David Mitchell very cleverly combined stories across both time and space in Cloud Atlas. I think he's a great writer, because he dares to take on big ideas - which literary fiction doesn't, necessarily.

Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is another example that comes to mind. It's set in 1840s Texas and New Mexico and is written as a kind of Biblical fable. It's an astonishing piece of writing, but probably not to everyone's taste. It's one of the few books that I've actually longed to read out loud because the language is so wonderful[/quote]

What did you make of the ending to Blood Meridian? It's bothered me ever since I read it!

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boswellbaxter
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Post by boswellbaxter » Fri November 19th, 2010, 3:02 pm

[quote=""Katherine Ashe""]I'd be very happy to post a picture here if somebody would tell me how.[/quote]

See this thread:

http://www.historicalfictiononline.com/ ... .php?t=840
Susan Higginbotham
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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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.
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri November 19th, 2010, 3:19 pm

I love elephants and the 16th century, so I downloaded the Elephant's Journey to my kindle. I must say, although I like the author's voice and way of putting words together, his punctuation (or lack thereof) doesn't do anything for the story and seriously gets in the way of the reading experience.

I am baffled at why he thought ignoring all the conventions that make reading possible would be a good idea. Excellent writing (by my definition) helps the reader disappear into the story or become engaged with the topic, not spend mental energy trying to figure out where a paragraph ends, who is speaking, or (in the case of Hilary Mantel) who 'he' is.

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Leo62
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Post by Leo62 » Fri November 19th, 2010, 5:54 pm

[quote=""wendy""]What did you make of the ending to Blood Meridian? It's bothered me ever since I read it![/quote]

I can't remember the end very well! Doesn't the Judge finally catch up with & kill the Boy...or something like that? What was it that bothered you wendy?
listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go
ee cummings

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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Fri November 19th, 2010, 6:34 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]Yes, so true - I find that, with a lot of lit fic, while stylistic experiment is encouraged, there seems to be a very narrow range of "acceptable" content. with miserablist navel-gazing being de rigeur. Though there are encouraging signs that this is beginning to change (e.g. the newfound literary respectability of HF!).[/quote]

Only now you get writers saying their work isn't HF, it's "literary fiction which happens to be set in the past". In other words, they're worried no-one will take them seriously if they admit to writing genre fiction. I think it's pretty snobby and it irritates me but on the other hand litfic rarely sells well so perhaps they're right to be extra careful about not alienating the readership.

I don't read very much litfic because I like the books I read to be (a) entertaining and (b) easily comprehensible. Fortunately I have succeeded in finding books in this category which are both - Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife comes to mind. But the super-literary stuff, in HF or outside it, is too rich for my blood. Same in other languages - yesterday I was looking through the French language section in Waterstone's and picked up Anna Gavalda's most recent novel La Consolante. I had really enjoyed her short stories but I couldn't make head or tail of the first pages of this novel. I just could not work out what was going on. When I got home I checked French Amazon wondering if the problem was not being a native French speaker, but the French readers had trouble too. So looks like I'll be giving it a miss.

Also reading literary HF is not the best training for me as a writer, because I aim to write commercial. So there's a limited amount I can learn from it. I do like to keep my reading varied and will have a few litfic novels in there every year but they are very very carefully chosen.

annis
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Post by annis » Fri November 19th, 2010, 7:39 pm

Posted by Ludmilla
With regard to politically oppressed authors trying to get by their censors:

Ismail Kadare's The Siege (about a fictional siege by the Turks in 15th C Albania) is an example of one of those novels that uses the past to serve as a critical allegory on the present.
This is one I keep meaning to read. Lion Feuchtwanger is another classic example of an author using the past to comment on the present- many of his historical novels served as thinly veiled criticism of the Nazi regime.

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