First is that I'm signing up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. It's been a few years since I participated in a reading challenge, aside from the annual Goodreads one, and this one fits my current reading and interests. The challenge is open to everyone, regardless of geographic location, so I'm in. There are many excellent historical novelists from Australia, and I like the concept behind the challenge: to support and promote books by Australian women.
It helps that I've already read three novels that fit the criteria, so I'm choosing the Miles level - reading six, reviewing at least four. This should be no problem, especially with Kate Morton's The Lake House (which has cover art posted - go look!) and Kate Forsyth's The Wild Girl set to be published in the US this year, among others. I also have Posie Graeme-Evans' Wild Wood on the TBR.
A review I linked up on the Historical Novel Society's FB group yesterday has provoked a lot of discussion on the value (or not) that author's notes and bibliographies have for historical novels. In her mostly positive New York Times review of Aislinn Hunter's new dual-period novel The World Before Us, Penelope Lively spent a paragraph criticizing the existence of Hunter's 3 1/2-page acknowledgments section. An excerpt:
It seems to be mandatory nowadays for a novelist (especially a historical novelist) to conclude with an extensive list of source material, along with copious thanks in all directions, as if this were a doctoral thesis rather than a work of fiction. I wish this weren’t so. I don’t want to know about the ballast of research. I want simply to enjoy the author’s evocative skill without being told how it was primed.
Do these extras interest you as a reader, or do they pull you out of the experience? You can see the acknowledgments pages via Google Books (scroll to the very end). Hunter lists four main print resources and a number of people. I was surprised that a reviewer would object to an author thanking her sources, including individuals who gave her access to private archives, answered her questions, and provided her with funding; it seemed like proper acknowledgment rather than scholarly excess.
From a week ago last Sunday, Laura Miller's piece on "our enduring Tudor obsession" praises Wolf Hall (print and TV) while denigrating shows like The Tudors and what she terms "princess novels," such as those written by Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory, for their supposed emphasis on sex and fashion over serious matters such as politics. Novelist Elizabeth Fremantle provides an excellent rebuttal to many of Miller's points for The History Girls blog. The comments to the latter are worth reading, too. Novelists who write about women's lives and issues still struggle to be taken seriously.
The shortlist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction was just announced, and out of the six titles, four have historical components: A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie, taking place around WWI and later; How to Be Both by Ali Smith, a "literary double-take" set now and in 15th-c Italy; A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, moving from the late '50s forward; and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, set in 1920s London.