Historical Musings #73: Walter Scott Prize winner and project progress report

Welcome to this month’s post on all things historical fiction!

The winner of this year’s Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was announced yesterday at the Borders Book Festival. Congratulations to James Robertson and News of the Dead!

There were only four titles on the shortlist this year and I have managed to read two and a half of them. The two are Rose Nicolson and Fortune and the half is The Magician, which I’m hoping to finish soon. Typically, News of the Dead is the only one I haven’t had time to get to yet.

The 2022 shortlist:

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig
News of the Dead by James Robertson
Fortune by Amanda Smyth
The Magician by Colm Tóibín

Have you read any or all of these books? Which one do you think should have won?

As some of you will know, I’m attempting to read all of the shortlists since the Walter Scott Prize began back in 2010, but my progress with this seems to have stalled recently. Kay, who blogs at What Me Read and is working on the same project, is doing much better than I am and has almost finished! I am keeping track of all my Walter Scott Prize reads here but thought it might be interesting to take a more detailed look at what I’ve read and not read so far. Below you can see my progress with the 2010-2015 shortlists; I’ll save the 2016-2021 lists for next month’s Historical Musings post.

2010

READ:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (winner)
Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears
Lustrum by Robert Harris

STILL TO READ:

Hodd by Adam Thorpe
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

It would be difficult to argue with Wolf Hall as the winner here, but I also loved Lustrum and Stone’s Fall – in fact, all three made it onto my books of the year lists in the years when I read them. Of the remaining books, I’m particularly looking forward to the Sarah Dunant as I enjoyed one of her others.

2011

READ:

The Long Song by Andrea Levy (winner)
Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor
Heartstone by C. J. Sansom

STILL TO READ:

To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams
C by Tom McCarthy
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

I did enjoy 2011’s winner, The Long Song, but as a Shardlake fan I preferred Sansom’s Heartstone. Ghost Light was interesting, but I didn’t really get on very well with the writing style.

2012

READ:

On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry (winner)
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Pure by Andrew Miller

STILL TO READ:

The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

I loved On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry writes so beautifully. But then, I loved The Sisters Brothers as well; I never expected to find a Western so enjoyable! Andrew Miller’s Pure was an atmospheric read, but I didn’t like it as much as the other two.

2013

READ:

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (winner)
The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The Streets by Anthony Quinn
Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain

STILL TO READ:

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker

I’ve read five out of the six books on the 2013 list. The Garden of Evening Mists is another beautiful book and a worthy winner, but my vote would probably have gone to Bring Up the Bodies. I only need to read Toby’s Room now, but I know it’s a sequel to Life Class so would prefer to read that one first.

2014

READ:

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (winner)
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Harvest by Jim Crace
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig

STILL TO READ:

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

This is a great shortlist! An Officer and a Spy is wonderful (one of my favourites by Robert Harris), but I also really enjoyed the other four that I’ve read, particularly Life After Life and Fair Helen. The Promise doesn’t sound as appealing to me and I haven’t rushed to read it, but will try to get to it soon so I can complete the 2014 list.

2015

READ:

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

STILL TO READ:

The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling (winner)
The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre
In the Wolf’s Mouth by Adam Foulds

I haven’t done very well with the 2015 shortlist. I’ve only read three of the seven books and wasn’t all that impressed with any of them. I liked parts of The Lie, but it’s not a favourite Helen Dunmore book, and A God in Every Stone was interesting, but I suspect it wasn’t the best Shamsie novel I could have started with. Arctic Summer wasn’t my sort of book at all and has put me off trying anything else by Damon Galgut. I hope for better things from the other four books on the shortlist, when I get round to reading them!

~

And that’s an update on my progress with the 2010-2015 shortlists! In next month’s Historical Musings post I’ll look at the lists from 2016-2021.

Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with the winners?

20 thoughts on “Historical Musings #73: Walter Scott Prize winner and project progress report

  1. whatmeread says:

    I have read more Galgut, and I think I enjoyed Arctic Summer the least. The 2015 shortlist wasn’t my favorite. I agree that the 2014 shortlist was stellar, and I think you’ll like The Promise when you get to it. I read Toby’s Room without reading the book before, and I didn’t feel like that caused any problems, but maybe I missed something. I didn’t realize it was a sequel until I was well into it. I think in 2011 you’ll like The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Sacred Hearts for 2010. You still have a lot of good reading ahead of you!

    • Helen says:

      Thanks – it sounds like I still have a lot of good books to look forward to here. It’s good to know I could probably read Toby’s Room without any problems even though it’s a sequel.

    • Helen says:

      This is a great prize to follow as the shortlists are always so interesting and varied. I’m nearly finished The Magician – it’s a good book, but I think you enjoyed it more than I did! I haven’t read much of Thomas Mann’s work, so maybe that was the problem.

  2. mallikabooks15 says:

    I enjoyed the Mantel books (but now am left facing book 3 with far too much time having passed since reading the first two) and have read the Sansom which I also thought excellent (as all the Shardlake books are), but have yet to read the others.

    • Helen says:

      I have the same problem with the Mantel books – it’s been years since I read Bring Up the Bodies. I’m planning to start the third book soon and hope I haven’t left it too long. I love the Shardlake books, but still haven’t read the last one, Tombland.

  3. Carmen says:

    I was hoping The Magician won; it was my favorite read last year. Since then I have read four books by Colm Toibin, and five novels by Damon Galgut since he won the Booker (it was Galgut’s third nomination, just like Toibin, though not for The Magician). My least favorite Galgut’s is Arctic Summer, but all the others novels are contemporary fiction, which isn’t really your thing. Apart from them, I haven’t read much related to this prize, but I’m considering reading more of the shortlisted novels as I go forward; I have been doing the same with the Booker since last year.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve almost finished The Magician and I’ve found it an interesting read, but I didn’t love it as much as you did. My choice of winner would have been Rose Nicolson. I’ve previously read Brooklyn and House of Names by Toibin, both of which I enjoyed. Maybe I’ll try Galgut again one day, but you’re right that most of his books don’t really sound like my thing!

  4. FictionFan says:

    I’ve read slightly more of these than I’d anticipated, except for 2015 which seems to have passed me by completely! Of the ones I’ve read, my winners would be:
    This year: Rose Nicolson (I haven’t read the winner but can’t see how it could be better than that one!)
    2010 – Wolf Hall
    2011 – Heartstone (just re-read it on audio, in fact – brilliant!)
    2012 – Pure
    2013 – Bring Up the Bodies (though I enjoyed The Garden of Evening Mists a lot too)
    2014 – Joint winner: An Officer and a Spy and The Luminaries – too hard to choose!
    2015 – Pass!

    Lots more of them I’d like to read though!

    • Helen says:

      I think I agree with all of your choices, apart from maybe 2012 as I didn’t really get on with Pure. And yes, Rose Nicolson should definitely have won this year! I will read the winning book eventually but can’t imagine it being better.

  5. beckylindroos says:

    Now I’m going to have to read Rose Nicolson because I see it is set in the exact place and era in which my 16th century ancestor absconded from Scotland to Norway and remained there. I say absconded because he took a sword belonging to Queen Mary. My uncle got it back to Scotland about 20 years ago His name was Sander Sanderson and he was an attorney and then a royal scribe.

    • Helen says:

      That’s fascinating, Becky! How interesting to have something like that in your family history. I’m sure you would like Rose Nicolson.

  6. piningforthewest says:

    I’ve read quite a lot of the books but from the 2022 list I’ve only read Rose Nicolson although I have just picked up News Of the Dead from the library. I really enjoyed Rose Nicolson.

    • Helen says:

      I loved Rose Nicolson and was hoping it would win. I’ll be interested to know what you think of News of the Dead as I don’t have a copy of that one yet.

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