Sunday, November 13, 2022

Five of the best historical novels to remind you how strange the past really was

Born in London, Emily Mitchell moved to the United States as a teenager. She has since lived in Vermont, Osaka, London, New York, San Francisco,West Virginia, Ohio, and Washington DC.

She holds a B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont. She worked at an editor at Index on Censorship magazine in London and at in New York before getting her M. F. A. at Brooklyn College.

Mitchell is the author of a novel, The Last Summer of the World (2007), an imaginative account of art-photographer Edward Steichen’s work in aerial reconnaissance during World War One, which was a finalist for the 2008 New York Public Library Young Lions Prize and a best-book-of-the-year in the Madison Capital Times, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Providence Journal. She is also the author of a collection of short stories, Viral (2015). Her short fiction has appeared in Harper’s, Ploughshares, New England Review, TriQuarterly, and Alaska Quarterly Review, among other magazines. Her book reviews have appeared in the New York Times and the New Statesman. She has received fellowships from the Sewanee Writers Conference, the Breadloaf Writers Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Ucross Foundation. She lives near Washington, DC and teaches writing at the University of Maryland.

At Shepherd Mitchell tagged five of the best historical novels to remind you how strange the past really was, including:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

From its first sentence, Mantel’s novel grabs you and plunges you deep into the world of 16th-century England in all its astounding cruelty and visceral complexity. It doesn’t let go until, really, the last sentence of the third book in
her Tudor trilogy, more than a thousand pages later. Part of the brilliance of this novel is Mantel’s choice of Thomas Cromwell as her protagonist. Cast as the villain in the standard account of Henry VIII’s tumultuous reign, the blacksmith’s son who became a king’s confidante is shown here to be a man before his time: committed to his beliefs but utterly pragmatic, ambitious, shrewd, loyal, far more interested in talent than heredity; in other words, modern, our ancestor, for better or for worse. Mantel’s gimlet-eyed view and razor wit make every page a total pleasure, even those dealing with some of the very darkest aspects of this time and place.
Read about another entry on the list.

Wolf Hall made Jody Hadlock's list of nine historical novels featuring real people as main characters, Benjamin Myers's top ten list of mentors in fiction, Jessie Burton's list of eleven of the best books about/with cats, Pete Buttigieg’s ten favorite books list, Ruby Bentall's six best books list, Rula Lenska's six favorite books list, Deborah Cadbury's top ten list of books about royal families, Peter Stanford's top ten list of Protestants in fiction, Melissa Harrsion's ten top depictions of British rain, the Telegraph's list of the 21 greatest television adaptations of novels, BBC Culture's list of the 21st century’s twelve greatest novels, Ester Bloom's ten list of books for fans of the television series House of Cards, Rachel Cantor's list of the ten worst jobs in books, Kathryn Williams's reading list on pride, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of books on baby-watching in Great Britain, Julie Buntin's top ten list of literary kids with deadbeat and/or absent dads, Hermione Norris's 6 best books list, John Mullan's list of ten of the best cardinals in literature, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on dangerous minds and Lev Grossman's list of the top ten fiction books of 2009, and is one of Geraldine Brooks's favorite works of historical fiction; Matt Beynon Rees called it "[s]imply the best historical novel for many, many years."

--Marshal Zeringue