Friday, February 27, 2015

Looking at the 2015 Walter Scott Prize longlist

As has been reported in other sources, the longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has been revealed for the first time ever.  In past years, readers have gotten to see only the shortlist and the eventual winner. 

Per the BBC:  "Judges said this reflected the 40% increase in entries for the prize as well as the 'high quality of historical fiction' currently being published."  An excellent sign for the genre a 40% increase is significant.  In addition, now that the prize has reached its 6th year, knowledge about it has become even more widespread, and publishers are no doubt paying attention and submitting more titles than ever.

The longlist includes:

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis (Holocaust in Germany)
The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry (20th-c Ireland and Africa)
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (17th-c Amsterdam)
The Lie by Helen Dunmore (WWI England)
Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre (17th-c England; out in April in the US)
In the Wolf's Mouth by Adam Foulds (North Africa and Sicily, WWII)
Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud (1914 England)
Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut (India in 1912)
Wake by Anna Hope (1920s England)
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (11th-c England)
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (WWII Germany)
A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie (WWI and after; Turkey, England, Peshawar)
The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak (16th-c Istanbul; out in April in the US)
The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling (14th-c China)
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (1922 London)

When I posted about the list on the Historical Novel Society's Facebook group on Tuesday, the reaction was enthusiastic about the award itself, mixed about the choices.  No one had read all of them, or close, which is to be expected.  The three I've read were books I enjoyed, for the most part, but I wouldn't put them on a favorites list.

Author Douglas Jackson noted on FB that the books were historical fiction of the literary sort, which is a good point.  Apart from The Miniaturist, they would seem to fit more closely with literary (elegantly written, character-centered, more slowly paced) historical fiction than with the "genre" variety. 

I've linked up my reviews of the three I'd read (I can thank Booklist for assigning the books to me).   Which ones have you read?  Feel free to leave links in the comments if you've reviewed them.  Which are you rooting for, if any?  Would you put any on your list of top reads for 2014/5?

18 comments:

  1. The. Only one I gave is The Wake, which was also long listed for the Man Booker. I take off my hat to the author for all the work he must have done in writing a book in what is - mostly, anyway - Old English - but I found it hard going and I did some Old English at university, so can probably follow it better than other readers. Must go back and have another go at finishing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for letting me know The Wake was also on the Booker longlist - I'd missed that. I was just reading about the novel at the publisher's website (and the publisher is interesting in itself; the novels are crowdfunded based on the author's idea). I took a course in Old English during my undergrad studies also, so I'm very curious.

      Delete
  2. I enjoyed The Paying Guests, but haven't read any of the others. I'm tempted by The Miniaturist, but you know - so many books, so little time...

    I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the preponderance of 20th-century settings (10 against 5 from other eras) given the huge trend toward WWI and WWII stories. But not a single tale set in the nineteenth century...sigh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got a copy of Paying Guests at last year's BEA, and, well... it's still on my shelf.

      Nope, no 19th-c settings. I noticed that too. The timeframe for Ten Thousand Things especially intrigues me, since it's not a time and place I know anything about.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for this post, Sarah. I was just wondering what should be on my list next, and now I know.

    I nominate The Lie. I've seldom read any novel, historical or otherwise, that gripped me as much. The Lie also gives the lie to the notion that literary implies a slow pace. The incidents are small but extremely momentous. If you care to check out my review, here it is:

    http://novelhistorian.com/2014/10/27/looking-for-a-home-and-himself/

    Larry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember your excellent review, Larry - The Lie sounds like a strong contender. Thanks for commenting about the novel. I've been intending to read it.

      Delete
  4. I've not read any of the books on the list, but do have Arctic Summer, Wake, A God in Every Stone, and The Miniaturist sitting on my TBR pile. Guess I should make a point of reading those that I already have before I start to check out the others on the list :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arctic Summer is one I'd like to read. In fact, I just put it in my cart right now. It's a Europa title in the US, and the editors there have good taste.

      Delete
  5. I've only read "The Miniaturist", which like you I found refreshing and beautifully written. If I had a complaint at all it would be that the ending seemed a little rushed and left me feeling not quite satisfied.

    I noted Paul Kingsnorth's "The Wake" earlier on the 2014 Man Booker longlist, but was reminded by your post to check it out A Kindle edition is going cheap currently on Amazon so I've lashed out. I find it hard to resist anything set in Anglo-Saxon England :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's interesting to note, with regard to The Miniaturist, that the judges don't have objection to an element of fantasy in their HF.

      I looked around online and found that The Wake has been picked up for US release in September by Graywolf, a small literary press. I may pick it up from the UK before that, though. :)

      Delete
    2. Funny you should say that, Sarah. I've been pondering the inclusion of fantasy in HF, in books as well as on the screen. Of course people were doing this long ago, weren't they, in gothic novels? Which definitely had a historical setting, although the label 'Historical Fiction' hadn't been invented yet.

      It's the million-dollar question: how 'real' does HF have to be?

      Delete
    3. I agree that elements of the supernatural were often included in historical gothic novels, although they weren't called as such then.

      Out of curiosity, I checked out the prize rules (which are online but hard to link to; it's a Word doc and Google doesn't give the full path)... anyway, they don't list accuracy/authenticity among the criteria, which include "the originality, innovation and longevity of the work, with quality of writing as the deciding factor." The Miniaturist is well-written, original and innovative, story-wise and setting-wise, which is why it's been such a success. But there's definitely something supernatural going on in the story.

      I don't blame them for not including accuracy/authenticity specifically as criteria; nobody wants to go through a book with a fine-toothed comb, checking every little detail. I suppose this could be built into "quality of the writing," though, if something majorly anachronistic was found. Just musing on it all.

      Delete
  6. I've read The Miniaturist, which I liked a lot, and The Paying Guests, which disappointed me. I love Sarah Waters, and the writing was beautiful as always, but I had a hard time accepting the characters and their actions. I was unconvinced they would have done the things they did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The last Sarah Waters novel I read was The Little Stranger, which was fabulous (and very creepy). I've always enjoyed her work, although a friend who just finished Paying Guests mentioned similar things about the characters, and that the ending was dragged out too long.

      Delete
  7. The Lie is the only book on this list I've read, which I enjoyed. Wake is in my reading pile. The Miniaturist and The Paying Guests are on my reading wish list. The other titles and authors I'm not familiar with though they look interesting, especially The Ten Thousand Things and The Architect's Apprentice because of their settings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the recommendation of The Lie. Architect's Apprentice does sound especially interesting. I was recently offered a review copy and am very tempted, even though my TBR is sky high.

      Delete
    2. There's always room for one more book :-)

      Delete