Historical Musings #74: Walter Scott Prize progress report – Part Two

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

As I mentioned in last month’s post, I am slowly working my way through all the titles shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize since it began back in 2010. As I haven’t been making much progress with this recently, I decided it might be motivational to take a detailed look at which books I’ve read so far and which I still need to read. Last month I looked back at the 2010-2015 shortlists – you can see that post here – and now I’m going to focus on 2016-2022.



A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea
Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar


Tightrope by Simon Mawer (winner)
Sweet Caress by William Boyd
End Games in Bordeaux by Allan Massie

I enjoyed A Place Called Winter and found Mrs Engels and Salt Creek interesting, but didn’t think any of them were outstandingly good. I haven’t read the winner yet, though – it’s the sequel to Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky and I was hoping to read the two books in the correct order. Similarly, the Allan Massie book is the last in a four-novel series and I decided to start at the beginning – I’ve only read the first two so far.



Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (winner)
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain


Jo Baker – A Country Road, A Tree
Charlotte Hobson – The Vanishing Futurist

I’ve made good progress with the 2017 list, reading five of the seven books. Of the ones I’ve read, I would definitely have given the prize to Golden Hill which I thought was a wonderful book. I do usually love Sebastian Barry, but Days Without End was not a favourite. Of the two I haven’t read, I have a copy of The Vanishing Futurist which I hope I’ll have time for soon.



Sugar Money by Jane Harris


The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers (winner)
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Grace by Paul Lynch
The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

I’m not sure why I’ve still only read one book from the 2018 shortlist! Most of the others did sound good and I had every intention of reading them soon after they were published, but never did. Anyway, I loved Sugar Money and it would probably have been my choice of winner even if I’d read the whole list as I’m a big fan of Jane Harris – I just wish she had written more books!



After The Party by Cressida Connolly
The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller


The Long Take by Robin Robertson (winner)
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I found Now We Shall Be Entirely Free a beautifully written novel and my favourite of the three I’ve read from the 2019 list – although it didn’t have much competition as the other two books just weren’t for me. I’m looking forward to reading Warlight, which will be my first Michael Ondaatje book.



To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek
Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor


The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey (winner)
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
The Redeemed by Tim Pears
A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland

I’ve read two books from the 2020 shortlist and of the two, I preferred Shadowplay. To Calais… was clever and imaginative, but not one that I particularly liked – although I had expected it to win as it’s the sort of book judges usually seem to go for. The other four don’t really appeal, but I’ll still give them a try.



The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (winner)
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell


The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

I didn’t manage to love Hamnet the way so many other readers have, but I did love The Mirror and the Light, which I just finished reading yesterday, having bought a copy the week it was published in March 2020 and then getting distracted by the pandemic. I do like the sound of all three of the other books and hope I’ll have the opportunity to read them soon, but I’ll be surprised if any of them impress me more than The Mirror and the Light!



Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig
Fortune by Amanda Smyth
The Magician by Colm Tóibín


News of the Dead by James Robertson (winner)

This year the shortlist was disappointingly short – only four books. Typically, I have read three of them, but not the winner! I was hoping the prize would go to Rose Nicolson, which I loved. If News of the Dead is even better, then I’m very much looking forward to reading it!


Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with the judges’ choices?

20 thoughts on “Historical Musings #74: Walter Scott Prize progress report – Part Two

  1. Ali Bacon says:

    We seem to have similar tastes although I have majored only on the 2018 list where I loved Sugar Money, Manhattan Beach and Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves. Admired rather than loved The Gallows Pole.
    From other years, loved The end of Days (must read more by SB), Now We Shall be Free, liked Place Called Winter, (Sweet Caress a bit of a parson’s egg!)
    Great round-up. Must catchup with recent years. Ali B

  2. April Munday says:

    I’ve had The Mirror and the Light since it came out, but I’ve put off reading it because I know what happens and I’m not ready yet.

    Fuelled by the good reviews, I gave Hamnet to my brother-in-law for his birthday. He didn’t get on with it at all.

  3. margaret21 says:

    How strange! As far as 2017 went, I’ve read the same ones as you. Nothing at all from 2016, 2018, 2020 (the shame!) and only the Miller (loved it) and Ondaatje (didn’t love it) from 2019. In 2021, I loved the Mantel and O’Farrell, and loathed the Pip Williams. Best get started on 2022 – and all my sins of omission.

    • Helen says:

      I’m sorry to hear you didn’t love the Ondaatje or the Pip Williams as they are two I haven’t read yet. Still, one of the things I’m enjoying about dipping into these shortlists is that I’m constantly being surprised by books and authors I hadn’t expected to like at all!

    • Helen says:

      I enjoyed The Gustav Sonata, although it wasn’t my favourite from that particular shortlist. I thought it had a lot of interesting things to say about war and neutrality.

  4. whatmeread says:

    I was trying to think what I could write to you about this, maybe tell you my favorites of the ones you haven’t read. For 2016, I think you have already read the best ones. I really didn’t like the Mawer book or End Games in Bordeaux. Sweet Caress was good. I can’t remember if I liked A Place Called Winter or Salt Creek best. For 2017, the two you haven’t read yet are both unusual, but I think you may like them. I believe I liked Golden Hill best. 2018 was a good batch. The only one I was disappointed in was Manhattan Beach and that because I am usually a big Jennifer Egan fan. For 2019, I thought the winner was an odd choice. Of the ones you haven’t read yet, I liked Warlight best. For 2020, I liked A Sin of Omission best, although I had to read it in eBook form because I couldn’t get it here. For 2021, The Tolstoy Estate is okay, but I think you’ll like A Room Made of Leaves and The Dictionary of Lost Words better. You’re ahead of me on 2022. I haven’t read the winner or Fortune yet, but my reviews of Rose Nicolson and The Magician are coming up in the next few weeks.

  5. FictionFan says:

    After having done quite well with the earlier years in your last post, I seem to have done dreadfully with these more recent ones. I’ve hardly read any of them, and of the few that I have read I haven’t enjoyed most of them. Thank goodness for Rose Nicolson! That one I did think was brilliant! 😀

    • Helen says:

      The earlier shortlists were stronger, I think – or maybe they were just more to my taste! And yes, Rose Nicolson was great. I still need to read this year’s winner, News of the Dead, but don’t see how it could be any better!

  6. Margaret says:

    I’ve read two from 2017 – Days without End and The Good People, two from 2019 – The Western Wind and Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, all of which I loved. I read two from 2021 – The Mirror and the Light, which I struggled through even though I had loved her first two in the trilogy and Hamnet, which I didn’t love, as I find the third person present tense distracted and distanced me from the story,

    • Helen says:

      I had the same problem with the third person present tense in Hamnet. I did end up enjoying The Mirror and the Light, although I couldn’t get into it at all the first time I tried to read it, during the first lockdown.

  7. jessicabookworm says:

    I have just borrowed an audible copy of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell Trilogy, which I was recommended as I struggled with the writing style of Wolf Hall, although I loved the characterisation. So looking forward to checking out Bring Up the Bodies soon! 🤞

    • Helen says:

      An audible copy could be a good idea. Hilary Mantel’s writing style is quite challenging! I did find Bring Up the Bodies the easiest of the three books to read, though, and also the shortest, I think.

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