The Walter Scott Prize 2020 Shortlist

Following the announcement of the 2020 longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction earlier this month, the shortlist has been revealed today. As you may know, I am currently working my way through all of the shortlisted titles for this prize since it began in 2010 (you can see my progress here), so I will be trying to read all of the books below eventually. There are six books on this year’s list and here they are:

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Picture provided by the Walter Scott Prize

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The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey

“1950: late summer season on Cape Cod. Michael, a ten-year-old boy, is spending the summer with Richie and his glamorous but troubled mother. Left to their own devices, the boys meet a couple living nearby – the artists Jo and Edward Hopper – and an unlikely friendship is forged.

She, volatile, passionate and often irrational, suffers bouts of obsessive sexual jealousy. He, withdrawn and unwell, depressed by his inability to work, becomes besotted by Richie’s frail and beautiful Aunt Katherine who has not long to live – an infatuation he shares with young Michael.

A novel of loneliness and regret, the legacy of World War II and the ever-changing concept of the American Dream.”

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The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

“As the First World War shatters families, destroys friendships and kills lovers, a young Palestinian dreamer sets out to find himself.

Midhat Kamal picks his way across a fractured world, from the shifting politics of the Middle East to the dinner tables of Montpellier and a newly tumultuous Paris. He discovers that everything is fragile: love turns to loss, friends become enemies and everyone is looking for a place to belong.

Isabella Hammad delicately unpicks the tangled politics and personal tragedies of a turbulent era – the Palestinian struggle for independence from the British Mandate, the strife of the early twentieth century and the looming shadow of the Second World War. An intensely human story amidst a global conflict, The Parisian is historical fiction with a remarkable contemporary voice.”

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To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek

“England, 1348. A gentlewoman is fleeing an odious arranged marriage, a Scottish proctor is returning home to Avignon and a handsome young ploughman in search of adventure is on his way to volunteer with a company of archers. All come together on the road to Calais.

Coming in their direction from across the Channel is the Black Death, the plague that will wipe out half of the population of Northern Europe. As the journey unfolds, overshadowed by the archers’ past misdeeds and clerical warnings of the imminent end of the world, the wayfarers must confront the nature of their loves and desires.

A tremendous feat of language and empathy, it summons a medieval world that is at once uncannily plausible, utterly alien and eerily reflective of our own. James Meek’s extraordinary To Calais, In Ordinary Time is a novel about love, class, faith, loss, gender and desire—set against one of the biggest cataclysms of human history.”

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Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

“1878: The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation, passionate and painful devotion to art and to one another. Henry Irving, the Chief, is the volcanic leading man and impresario; Ellen Terry is the most lauded and desired actress of her generation, outspoken and generous of heart; and ever following along behind them in the shadows is the unremarkable theatre manager, Bram Stoker.

Fresh from life in Dublin as a clerk, Bram may seem the least colourful of the trio but he is wrestling with dark demons in a new city, in a new marriage, and with his own literary aspirations. As he walks the London streets at night, streets haunted by the Ripper and the gossip which swirls around his friend Oscar Wilde, he finds new inspiration. But the Chief is determined that nothing will get in the way of his manager’s devotion to the Lyceum and to himself. And both men are enchanted by the beauty and boldness of the elusive Ellen.

This exceptional novel explores the complexities of love that stands dangerously outside social convention, the restlessness of creativity, and the experiences that led to Dracula, the most iconic supernatural tale of all time.”

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The Redeemed by Tim Pears

“It is 1916. The world has gone to war, and young Leo Sercombe, hauling coal aboard the HMS Queen Mary, is a long way from home. The wild, unchanging West Country roads of his boyhood seem very far away from life aboard a battlecruiser, a universe of well-oiled steel, of smoke and spray and sweat, where death seems never more than a heartbeat away.

Skimming through those West Country roads on her motorcycle, Lottie Prideaux defies the expectations of her class and sex as she covertly studies to be a vet. But the steady rhythms of Lottie’s practice, her comings and goings between her neighbours and their animals, will be blown apart by a violent act of betrayal, and a devastating loss.

In a world torn asunder by war, everything dances in flux: how can the old ways life survive, and how can the future be imagined, in the face of such unimaginable change? How can Leo, lost and wandering in the strange and brave new world, ever hope to find his way home?

The final instalment in Tim Pears’s exquisite West Country Trilogy, The Redeemed is a timeless, stirring and exquisitely wrought story of love, loss and destiny fulfilled, and a bittersweet elegy to a lost world.”

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A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland

“In the Eastern Cape, Stephen (Malusi) Mzamane, a young Anglican priest, must journey to his mother’s rural home to inform her of his elder brother’s death.

First educated at the Native College in Grahamstown, Stephen was sent to England in 1869 for training at the Missionary College in Canterbury. But on his return to South Africa, relegated to a dilapidated mission near Fort Beaufort, he had to confront not only the prejudices of a colonial society but the discrimination within the Church itself.

Conflicted between his loyalties to the amaNgqika people, for whom his brother fought, and the colonial cause he as Reverend Mzamane is expected to uphold, Stephen’s journey to his mother’s home proves decisive in resolving the contradictions that tear at his heart.”

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* All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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What do you think? Have you read any of these? I have read one of them – To Calais, in Ordinary Time – and although it wasn’t really for me, I am not at all surprised to see it on the shortlist and won’t be surprised if it goes on to win the overall prize. I’m pleased to see Shadowplay and The Narrow Land on there too, as they are probably the books that appealed to me most from the longlist.

The winner is usually announced at the Borders Book Festival in June but with the current situation this year’s festival has been postponed, so we will have to wait and see how and when the 2020 announcement takes place!

The Walter Scott Prize 2020 Longlist

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you will know that I have been slowly working through all of the books shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction since the prize began in 2010. I have discovered some great books and authors over the last few years thanks to this prize. You can see the progress I’ve made with this here – and I know there are other bloggers working on similar projects too.

The longlist for the 2020 prize has been announced today and includes lots of intriguing titles. I’m not planning on trying to read the entire longlist – I’m waiting until the shortlist is announced – but I would still like to read as many of these as I can.

Here are the twelve books on this year’s longlist:

The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey (Atlantic)
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad (Jonathan Cape)
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (OneWorld)
To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek (Canongate)
The Offing by Benjamin Myers (Bloomsbury)
The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan (Serpent’s Tail)
Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker)
The Redeemed by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury)
A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland (Penguin South Africa)
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (Doubleday)
This is Happiness by Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)
The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood (Picador)

I have only read two of these so far: I enjoyed Once Upon a River and although To Calais, in Ordinary Time wasn’t really my sort of book, I did predict in my review that it would be nominated for awards and I’ve been proved right! I already have Shadowplay on my TBR, as well as the first book in the Tim Pears trilogy of which The Redeemed is the final part, but I know very little or nothing about most of the others.

Have you read any of the books on this year’s longlist? Which ones do you think will be shortlisted? We’ll find out in April.

And the winner is…

Before Christmas, I posted a link to a new poll launched by the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction to find the UK’s favourite historical novel of all time. Today the result has been announced and in first place is…

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’m not at all surprised to see that this book got the most votes, given all the other accolades it has already won – from the Booker Prize to the Walter Scott Prize itself (in 2010) – and its popularity even with readers who don’t usually choose to read historical fiction.

In second and third place are The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff and The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. I still haven’t read The Eagle of the Ninth, although I’ve enjoyed other books by Rosemary Sutcliff. The Game of Kings, though, I can highly recommend and would personally have ranked above Wolf Hall. Anyway, you can read more about the poll and the results at the Walter Scott Prize website here.

Have you read any of these? Do you agree with the winner?

My favourite books of 2019

With 2020 almost here, it’s time to look back on my favourite reads of 2019. This is a shorter list than in previous years, because although I’ve read a lot of very good books in 2019, I don’t feel that there have been as many as usual that I’ve really loved. I’ll be exploring the reasons for that and some possible solutions when I post my reading plans and resolutions for 2020 in the New Year, but for now here are some of the books I did enjoy in 2019:

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The Way to the Lantern by Audrey Erskine Lindop (1961)

From my review: “Why it has been allowed to go out of print and fade into obscurity is a mystery to me. I thought it was a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end…The balance between the historical detail and Roberts’ fictional adventures is perfect; it’s the sort of book where you learn a lot as you go along, while being entertained by a great story at the same time.”

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (1939)

From my review: “This is a beautifully written novel with characters I came to love and care about…At first I thought it was going to be a long, slow read, but as I gradually became more and more engrossed in Huw’s story the pages started to fly by much more quickly than I’d expected.”

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie (1936)

From my review: ” I found this a particularly clever Christie novel and didn’t come close to solving it. I allowed myself to be sent in completely the wrong direction by the red herrings and took everything at face value; in fact, for a long time I thought I was reading a different sort of mystery entirely…I loved this one and I think I did the right thing in reading it before trying to watch the adaptation again.”

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop (2019)

From my review: “As I probably knew even less about 20th century Greek history than Nikos and Popi at the start of the novel, I found that I was learning a lot from the book, as well as being gripped by the personal stories of Themis and her family…Those Who Are Loved is a powerful, emotional story.”

The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman (2019)

From my review: “I loved this book; the reservations I had about the first one (mainly the slow pace at the beginning and the story being not quite what I’d expected) were not problems this time and I was engrossed from the first page. This is such a fascinating period of history, yet being sandwiched between the end of Elizabeth I’s reign in 1603 and the Civil Wars of 1642-1651, it often tends to be overlooked. There’s so much going on in this novel…and Frances is right at the heart of it all.”

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer (1956)

From my review: “Georgette Heyer is almost always a delight to read and I found this 1956 novel, Sprig Muslin, particularly enjoyable and entertaining. Set in the Regency period she recreated so convincingly, it has all the humour, adventure and romance I expect from her work.”

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (2019)

From my review: “What an unusual book! Not having read anything by Jess Kidd before, I didn’t know what to expect from this new Victorian mystery, but I immediately fell in love with the playful writing and imaginative plot. I knew as soon as the ghost of a tattooed boxer arose from a tomb in Highgate Cemetery that this was going to be no ordinary detective novel.”

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor (2019)

From my review: “This series is getting better and better. We are moving further away from the time of the Great Fire now, but its effects are still being felt across London as rebuilding takes place and people try to move on with their lives…Andrew Taylor is so good at blending fact and fiction, so that the fictional events of the story feel quite plausible within the context of the period and the murder mystery fits smoothly into the history and politics of the time.”

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie (1937)

From my review: “I really enjoyed this particular Poirot novel; I usually do tend to enjoy the ones narrated by Hastings and I wish there had been a few more of them. The real star of this book, though, has to be Bob the dog!”

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry (2019)

From my review: “This is the second book in a new series of historical mysteries written by Ambrose Parry, a pseudonym used by husband and wife team Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman…My main criticism of The Way of All Flesh was the weakness of the murder mystery, but I found this one much stronger…As with the first book, though, it was the medical aspect of the story that I found most interesting.”

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And I want to give these books a special mention too:

The Butcher’s Daughter by Victoria Glendinning
The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby
Margaret Tudor by Melanie Clegg
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley

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Have you read any of these? What are your favourite books of 2019?

My books of the decade

I hope you all had a great Christmas!

This is the time of year when bloggers start posting their ‘books of the year’ lists, but I usually try to leave mine until as late as possible just in case I read something wonderful in the last few days of December. However, as we’re also approaching the end of the decade (unless you consider that it ends in December 2020 rather than December 2019), I’m noticing that a lot of people are also putting together lists of ‘books of the decade’ and I thought I would do the same.

I began by looking at my previous end of year lists and trying to choose one book to represent each year, but quickly decided that would be impossible – in fact, I really couldn’t narrow things down any further than ten books per year. So here they are: ninety of my favourite books read from 2010 to 2018, with 2019’s choices to be added next week. In some cases I have counted a whole series or trilogy as one book, otherwise the list would have been even longer!

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2010

Wild Swans by Jung Chang
The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman
The Glass of Time by Michael Cox
The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

2011

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
The Children’s Book by AS Byatt
Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears

2012

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
The House of Niccolò by Dorothy Dunnett
Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Master of Verona by David Blixt
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

2013

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
The Iron King by Maurice Druon
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas

2014

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada
The Moon in the Water by Pamela Belle
The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes
Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald
A History of Loneliness by John Boyne
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

2015

Imperium by Robert Harris
Death in Kashmir by MM Kaye
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini
Beau Geste by PC Wren
The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh
The Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

2016

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
Dictator by Robert Harris
The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge
Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore
The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

2017

The Red House Mystery by AA Milne
Lost Horizon by James Hilton
Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye
Long Summer Day by RF Delderfield
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Towers in the Mist by Elizabeth Goudge
They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie
Wintercombe by Pamela Belle
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

2018

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce
The Feast by Margaret Kennedy
The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

2019

Coming soon…

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Have you read any of these? What are your favourite books of the last ten years?

Classics Club Spin #22: The result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin was revealed yesterday.

The idea of the Spin was to list twenty books from my Classics Club list, number them 1 to 20, and the number announced by the Classics Club represents the book I have to read before 31st January 2020. The number that has been selected is…

13

And this means the book I need to read is…

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse

This novel exemplifies historical fiction at its best; the author’s meticulous research and polished style bring the medieval world into vibrant focus. Set during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), the narrative creates believable human beings from the great roll of historical figures. Here are the mad Charles VI, the brilliant Louis d’Orleans, Joan of Arc, Henry V, and, most importantly, Charles d’Orleans, whose loyalty to France brought him decades of captivity in England. A natural poet and scholar, his birth and rank thrust him into the center of intrigue and strife, and through his observant eyes readers enter fully into his colorful, dangerous times. First published in the Netherlands in 1949, this book has never been out of print there and has been reprinted 15 times.

I’m very happy with this result! In a Dark Wood Wandering has been on my TBR for years and I’m not sure why I keep putting off reading it as it definitely sounds like my sort of book. I think it will get 2020 off to a good start!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Classics Club Spin #22: My list

I don’t seem to have read as many classics as usual this year, so I was pleased to see the Classics Club announce another of their Spins today. I really enjoyed my last Spin book (Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy) so I’m hoping for another good result this time.

If you’re not sure what a Classics Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #22:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 22nd December the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 31st January 2020.

And here is my list:

1. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
2. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
3. Castle Dor by Daphne du Maurier
4. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
6. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
7. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
8. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
9. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
10. I Will Repay by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
11. Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem by Emilio Salgari
12. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
13. In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse
14. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
15. La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
16. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
17. Germinal by Emile Zola
18. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
19. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
20. The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope

Which of these do you think I should be hoping for?