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Andrew Miller's Top 10 Historical Novels.

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annis
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Andrew Miller's Top 10 Historical Novels.

Post by annis » Sun July 3rd, 2011, 9:17 pm

It's always interesting to see what a historical novelist's favourite historical novels are. In conjunction with the release of his own latest novel, Pure, set during the French Revolution, Andrew Miller has some interesting comments to make about historical fiction in general. As a bonus he lists his personal top 10 historical novels in this recent Guardian article:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/ju ... cal-novels

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Divia
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Post by Divia » Mon July 4th, 2011, 2:49 am

They maybe his, but I have no desire to read any of these books.
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Madeleine
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Post by Madeleine » Mon July 4th, 2011, 3:01 pm

Apart from the first two and the Mantel, I haven't heard of the others! Then again, I haven't heard of him either. Each to their own.
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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Mon July 4th, 2011, 7:45 pm

These are quite literary novels, on the whole.

I loved I, Claudius - people may be familiar with this because of the superb BBC series starring Derek Jacoby.

I've read The Blue Flower. It's set around the time of Goethe, very gracefully written, with some memorable images (I liked the opening scene of a family's spring-cleaning). Except for the hordes of novels about the Nazis, there are relatively few historical novels set in Germany, so I read this with quite a bit of interest. It's not for readers looking for a brisk or upbeat plot, though. It's quite a short novel, but the flavor is almost reminiscent of Proust.

John Banville's Kepler is another one set in Germany and the surrounding area. It's extremely vivid - the setting and characters absolutely come to life. For the second half of the novel, Banville made what, to me, seemed an odd choice. He suddenly introduces a series of letters from Kepler to various other people, and the narrative becomes non-chronological and, to me, rather confusing and hard to follow. Also, Kepler is not particularly likable (the real Kepler probably wasn't either). As far as putting the reader right into the middle of another world, though, this novel is magnificently written.

The New Yorker ran a glowing review of Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian a few years ago, and I tracked the book down to read. Alas, I didn't get through the opening chapter. It starts with the emperor on his death bed, wishing he had the energy to bugger his young servant boy. I'm not all that squeamish, but the scene really bored me. Perhaps I should have persevered, at least to the point where Hadrian's earlier life comes into the story. This novel gets a lot of critical acclaim, and I'm interested in the time period.

Other than The Eagle of the Ninth, deservedly praised here many times, I haven't read the others.

I guess if there's one thing these books have in common it's the brilliance of the authors' ability to evoke a particular historical time and place. (From that standpoint, Cecelia Holland really should have been on the list.)
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Divia
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Post by Divia » Mon July 4th, 2011, 8:40 pm

Ah. I'm not a literary novel type of chick. ;)
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Post by SGM » Mon July 4th, 2011, 9:12 pm

Rosemary Sutcliff - Yes, but in childhood although I do intend to read it again. Although my favourite RS was Flowers of Adonis.

I, Claudius - Yes, but many years ago when I was a student.

Italo Svevo - I read another of his books but not this one

Penelope Fitzgerald - Again, others but not this one

The Leopard - Yes.

Rites of Passage, William Golding - Yes. This one was one of his easier ones. I read Pincher Martin for A level and really wouldn't have known what was going on but for the study in class. The Inheritors was a bit weird, too.

A Place of Greater Safety - Yes.

Siege of Krishnapor - Yes. Quite recently, too, because I saw a TV programme about him a few years ago.
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Post by donroc » Mon July 4th, 2011, 10:47 pm

I Claudius is always among my top HF novels.

Did not enjoy The Leopard -- maybe the translation was poor.

That's it from his list.
Image

Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXZthhY6 ... annel_page

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue July 5th, 2011, 12:06 am

Ah. I'm not a literary novel type of chick.
You've got plenty of company! The more literary, generally, the less it sells (and the more critical acclaim it gets). Personally, the novels I like the best reach literary standards in the realistic vividness of characters and setting while the storytelling has as much flow and suspense as the best of the popular novels. It's a rare novel that achieves both.
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Post by annis » Tue July 5th, 2011, 1:47 am

I think one of the interesting things is that every reader's Top 10 is going to be unique to that reader, although over a sampling of lists some titles may reappear on a regular basis.

I thought it quite amusing that many of the commentators went into a frenzy along the lines of "this is not a valid Top 10 list because it doesn't contain the title(s) which I think are essential" - good grief! It was Andrew Miller's personal list, after all- he wasn't claiming it as the definitive "Top 10 HF Ever" list. Oh dear, it's all about me, these days :)

I've read quite a few of these and some would be up there for me, though not necessarily on my own Top 10 list, apart from perhaps I, Claudius and Siege of Krishnapur. Although Rosemary Sutcliff is high on my list of favourite authors, i personally think she reaches the height of her powers and expression of themes with The Mark of the Horse Lord. Although I wouldn't say I'm a super-literary reader on the whole, I have a special place in my heart for authors who do wonderful things with language as well as tell a great story, so maybe I do drool over some novels that leave other readers rather cold. A book does have to touch me emotionally as well, though- cleverness just for the sake of itself sometimes turns me off.

It has to be remembered that Andrew Miller is British, so those of us exposed to British fiction are perhaps more likely to have encountered his favourites over the years.
Last edited by annis on Tue July 5th, 2011, 1:53 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Divia
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Post by Divia » Tue July 5th, 2011, 2:34 am

[quote=""Margaret""]You've got plenty of company! The more literary, generally, the less it sells (and the more critical acclaim it gets). Personally, the novels I like the best reach literary standards in the realistic vividness of characters and setting while the storytelling has as much flow and suspense as the best of the popular novels. It's a rare novel that achieves both.[/quote]

Amen to that :)
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