Living in the Past (or, Why I Love Historical Fiction)

Historical fiction has been my favourite genre since I read Gone With the Wind when I was fifteen. Of course, contemporary fiction can be equally exciting and compelling, but I just feel more comfortable when I’m ‘in the past’. Does anyone else feel that way? I enjoy reading about real historical figures and events, then being able to look them up on the internet or in another book and find more information about them. I’ve lost count of the number of interesting little facts that I’ve learned from reading historical fiction that I probably would never have heard about otherwise. Of course, it’s important to remember that these books are fiction and aren’t always 100% historically accurate, but in general they’re a fun and painless way to learn some history.

There are so many different ways an author can approach historical fiction, including time travel (Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series), to creating a fictional family that mirrors a historical one (Susan Howatch uses this technique in Penmarric, Cashelmara and Wheel of Fortune). There are historical romances, historical mysteries and historical adventure stories. There are novels set in almost any historical period you can think of from pre-history (Jean M Auel’s Earth’s Children series) to the Tudor court (Philippa Gregory) to as recent as World War II (Paullina Simon’s Bronze Horseman trilogy). Even if the book is about a historical period or topic that you’re not really interested in, a good historical fiction writer will bring the history to life for you.

Finally, historical fiction novels are often, though not always, long – and I love long books! I always find myself drawn to ‘epic sagas’, complete with maps and family trees.

Here are a few of my favourite historical fiction books:

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Katherine by Anya Seton
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Cross Stitch/Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Physician by Noah Gordon
Penmarric by Susan Howatch
Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd
North and South by John Jakes

Why do you enjoy reading historical fiction? Or if you don’t, why not?

This post was written for the 2010 Blog Improvement Project Week 2: Pumping Up Post Titles