Thursday, May 09, 2024

Bits and pieces of historical fiction news: awards, reviews, and more

A short roundup of recent news about historical novels and their authors.

Jayne Anne Phillips' Night Watch, set in rural West Virginia during and after the US Civil War, was named the winner for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on May 6th. I had reviewed it last year, and it's nice to see a historical novel get such a prestigious honor.  The announcement in Publishers Lunch (can't link to it as it's behind a paywall) mentioned that up until now, Night Watch had sold fewer than 4000 hardcover copies, a modest number.  Safe to say that many libraries and individual readers will be adding it to their collections now.  It was also longlisted for the National Book Award. The Washington Post review, by Wendy Smith, which called it "beautiful, mournful," is very positive (with one quibble that I happen to agree with). Dwight Garner's New York Times review is decidedly less so. The literary style won't appeal to everyone, but in reading multiple reviews, you can get a sense of whether a novel will suit your tastes or not. Then, if you want to read more about authors and reviews, I recommend Jennifer Weiner's Substack post on the topic, "Revenge of the Panned."

The 2024 Walter Scott Prize shortlist is out, with six historical novels under contention:

The New Life by Tom Crewe (Chatto & Windus/Scribner)
Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein (Bloomsbury/Ecco)
My Father's House by Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker/Europa)
In the Upper Country by Kai Thomas (Viking Canada/Viking US/John Murray)
Absolutely and Forever by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus/no US edition)
The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng (Canongate/Bloomsbury US)

I've added the US publishers if they exist. The only one I've read so far is In the Upper Country, centering on an Underground Railroad hub in what's now Ontario in 1859, and my takeaway was "while [it] isn’t an effortless read, it makes an original and valuable contribution to the historical fiction genre." The winner will be announced on June 13th.

The category shortlists for the Historical Novel Society's First Chapters competition were announced on Monday. This award is for the first three chapters of an unpublished historical fiction work.

Bestselling historical crime writer C. J. Sansom passed away on April 27th after a lengthy illness, and his fans, peers, and publisher have been posting their remembrances. Among the most moving is that written by his friend Rear Admiral John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust, speaking about how he came to meet the author and read his works, and his personal experience with Sansom's thorough research into Tudor politics and life over the course of his novels.

On her Substack, Alina Adams shares details about sales and earnings for her newest historical novelMy Mother's Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region, which came out with the micro-press History Through Fiction. This will be an informative post not just for readers curious about the historical fiction market, but also (and especially) for authors interested in publishing with smaller presses and wanting to know what to expect. Spoiler alert: the total sales numbers have been very good.

1 comment: