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!

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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?

Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction – 2022 Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2022 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has been announced today! Thanks to this prize, I have discovered lots of great books and authors over the last few years and always look out for the longlists and shortlists; in fact, trying to read all of the shortlisted titles since the prize began in 2010 is a personal project of mine (you can see my progress here).

From the longlist of thirteen books, which was revealed in February, I have managed to read The Sunken Road, Mrs England, Still Life and Rose Nicolson – and still have some of the others waiting on my TBR. But have any of the books I’ve read made it onto the shortlist?

Surprisingly, there are only four titles on this year’s shortlist, rather than the usual five or six – and here they are:

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig

Embra, winter of 1574. Queen Mary has fled Scotland, to raise an army from the French. Her son and heir, Jamie is held under protection in Stirling Castle. John Knox is dead. The people are unmoored and lurching under the uncertain governance of this riven land. It’s a deadly time for young student Will Fowler, short of stature, low of birth but mightily ambitious, to make his name.

Fowler has found himself where the scorch marks of the martyrs burned at the stake can be seen on every street, where differences in doctrine can prove fatal, where the feuds of great families pull innocents into their bloody realm. There he befriends the austere stick-wielding philosopher Tom Nicolson, son of a fishing family whose sister Rose, untutored, brilliant and exceedingly beautiful exhibits a free-thinking mind that can only bring danger upon her and her admirers. The lowly students are adept at attracting the attentions of the rich and powerful, not least Walter Scott, brave and ruthless heir to Branxholm and Buccleuch, who is set on exploiting the civil wars to further his political and dynastic ambitions. His friendship and patronage will lead Will to the to the very centre of a conspiracy that will determine who will take Scotland’s crown.

Rose Nicolson is a vivid, passionate and unforgettable novel of this most dramatic period of Scotland’s history, told by a character whose rise mirrors the conflicts he narrates, the battles between faith and reason, love and friendship, self-interest and loyalty. It confirms Andrew Greig as one of the great contemporary writers of fiction.

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News of the Dead by James Robertson

Deep in the mountains of north-east Scotland lies Glen Conach, a place of secrets and memories, fable and history. In particular, it holds the stories of three different eras, separated by centuries yet linked by location, by an ancient manuscript and by echoes that travel across time.

In ancient Pictland, the Christian hermit Conach contemplates God and nature, performs miracles and prepares himself for sacrifice. Long after his death, legends about him are set down by an unknown hand in the Book of Conach.

Generations later, in the early nineteenth century, self-promoting antiquarian Charles Kirkliston Gibb is drawn to the Glen, and into the big house at the heart of its fragile community.

In the present day, young Lachie whispers to Maja of a ghost he thinks he has seen. Reflecting on her long life, Maja believes him, for she is haunted by ghosts of her own.

News of the Dead is a captivating exploration of refuge, retreat and the reception of strangers. It measures the space between the stories people tell of themselves – what they forget and what they invent – and the stories through which they may, or may not, be remembered.

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Fortune by Amanda Smyth

Eddie Wade has recently returned from the US oilfields. He is determined to sink his own well and make his fortune in the 1920s Trinidad oil-rush. His sights are set on Sonny Chatterjee’s failing cocoa estate, Kushi, where the ground is so full of oil you can put a stick in the ground and see it bubble up. When a fortuitous meeting with businessman Tito Fernandez brings Eddie the investor he desperately needs, the three men enter into a partnership. A friendship between Tito and Eddie begins that will change their lives forever, not least when the oil starts gushing. But their partnership also brings Eddie into contact with Ada, Tito’s beautiful wife, and as much as they try, they cannot avoid the attraction they feel for each other.

Fortune, based on true events, catches Trinidad at a moment of historical change whose consequences reverberate down to present concerns with climate change and environmental destruction. As a story of love and ambition, its focus is on individuals so enmeshed in their desires that they blindly enter the territory of classic Greek tragedy where actions always have consequences.

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The Magician by Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín’s new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile.

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As you can see, I’ve only read one of these four books, Rose Nicolson – and loved it, so I would be very pleased if it won! I will be trying to read the other three, but might not have time before the winner is announced at the Borders Book Festival on Friday 17th June.

Have you read any of these books or are you tempted to read them? Which one do you think will win?

Walter Scott Prize Longlist 2022

The longlist for the 2022 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has been announced today! Thanks to this prize, I have discovered lots of great books and authors over the last few years and always look out for the longlists and shortlists; in fact, trying to read all of the shortlisted titles since the prize began in 2010 is a personal project of mine (you can see my progress here).

There are thirteen books on this year’s longlist:

Blue Postcards by Douglas Bruton (Fairlight Books)

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks (Hutchinson Heinemann)

Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig (Riverrun)

Mrs England by Stacey Halls (Manilla Press)

The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small by Neil Jordan (Lilliput Press)

The Sunken Road by Ciarán McMenamin (Harvill Secker)

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking)

News of the Dead by James Robertson (Hamish Hamilton)

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker)

Fortune by Amanda Smyth (Peepal Tree Press)

Learwife by J.R Thorp (Canongate)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín (Viking)

Still Life by Sarah Winman (Fourth Estate)

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I have only read two of the books on the longlist so far. I loved Rose Nicolson and am not surprised to see it included here and I also enjoyed Still Life (apart from the lack of speech marks, which was annoying). Mrs England has been on my TBR since last year and I will definitely try to read it before the shortlist is revealed, while The Fortune Men and Snow Country are also books that I was already thinking about reading. Of the others, I’m familiar with Learwife and The Magician but haven’t been tempted to read either, and the rest are completely new to me. I’m always surprised when I haven’t heard of half of the longlisted titles, considering how much historical fiction I read!

Have you read any of these books? Which ones would you recommend?

The shortlist will be announced in April and the winner in June at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland.

The Walter Scott Prize 2021 Shortlist

Following the announcement of the 2021 longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in February, the shortlist has been revealed today. As you may know, I am slowly 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 five books on this year’s list and here they are:

Image courtesy of The Walter Scott Prize

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The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte

“In the first year of the doomed German invasion of Russia in WWII, a German military doctor, Paul Bauer, is assigned to establish a field hospital at Yasnaya Polyana – the former grand estate of Count Leo Tolstoy, the author of the classic War and Peace. There he encounters a hostile aristocratic Russian woman, Katerina Trubetzkaya, a writer who has been left in charge of the estate. But even as a tentative friendship develops between them, Bauer’s hostile and arrogant commanding officer, Julius Metz, becomes erratic and unhinged as the war turns against the Germans. Over the course of six weeks, in the terrible winter of 1941, everything starts to unravel…

From the critically acclaimed and award-winning author, Steven Conte, The Tolstoy Estate is ambitious, accomplished and astonishingly good: an engrossing, intense and compelling exploration of the horror and brutality of conflict, and the moral, emotional, physical and intellectual limits that people reach in war time. It is also a poignant, bittersweet love story – and, most movingly, a novel that explores the notion that literature can still be a potent force for good in our world.”

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A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

“It is 1788. Twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth is hungry for life but, as the ward of a Devon clergyman, knows she has few prospects. When proud, scarred soldier John Macarthur promises her the earth one midsummer’s night, she believes him.

But Elizabeth soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Her new husband is reckless, tormented, driven by some dark rage at the world. He tells her he is to take up a position as Lieutenant in a New South Wales penal colony and she has no choice but to go. Sailing for six months to the far side of the globe with a child growing inside her, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours.

All her life she has learned to be obliging, to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.

Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.”

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The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

“England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.”

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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

“On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.”

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The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

“Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.”

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The only one of these I’ve read so far is Hamnet and although I wasn’t a fan, I’m aware that most people have loved it so I won’t be at all surprised if it wins. I’m sure The Mirror and the Light will be another strong contender; I haven’t finished it yet, but will eventually! Of the remaining three books, The Dictionary of Lost Words doesn’t appeal to me much but I’m looking forward to reading the other two (although The Tolstoy Estate hasn’t been published here in the UK yet).

What do you think of this shortlist? Which book do you think will win?

The Walter Scott Prize 2021 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 2021 prize has just been announced and includes some titles that I would have predicted, as well as some that I’ve never even heard of! Here are the eleven books on this year’s list:

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Hinton by Mark Blacklock (Granta)

The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte (HarperCollins Australia)

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd (Two Roads)

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville (Canongate UK, Text Publishing Australia)

Mr Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press)

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Bloomsbury)

A Treacherous Country by K L Kruimink (Allen & Unwin Australia)

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate)

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline)

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm Press Australia, Chatto & Windus UK)

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I’m not at all surprised to see Hamnet on the list – although I didn’t love it as much as most other readers seem to have done, I’m sure it will be shortlisted and possibly win the overall prize. I didn’t particularly enjoy Islands of Mercy either, but again I can see that it’s a well-written, multi-layered novel and deserves its place on the longlist. The only other one I’ve read is The Year Without Summer, which I did find interesting even though it seemed more like a collection of short stories than a novel.

Of the other eight books, I do have a copy of The Mirror and the Light which I started to read last year and abandoned as I wasn’t in the mood for it; I’m hoping to finish it soon! I was already interested in reading A Room Made of Leaves, but am not familiar with any of the others so will have to investigate.

Have you read any of these? Which ones do you think should be shortlisted?

Historical Musings #61: Art through the ages

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction.

The winner of this year’s Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was announced on Friday: The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to read all of the shortlisted titles (I posted the shortlist back in March) but I hope to catch up with them eventually. The Narrow Land is about the American artists Edward and Jo Hopper and the summer they spent in Cape Cod in 1950, so I thought it would be interesting this month to look at other historical fiction novels which feature famous artists.

Most recently, I have read Mrs Whistler by Matthew Plampin, which explores the relationship between James Abbott McNeill Whistler and his model and muse, Maud Franklin. I’m currently working through a backlog of books I need to review, so you will be able to read my thoughts on that one eventually!

Thinking of others I’ve read, the first that comes to mind is Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Set in the Netherlands in the 1660s, it tells the story of a maid in the household of the artist Johannes Vermeer. There’s also The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan, a fictional memoir of the 15th century artist, Hans Memling.

Novels about early female artists are particularly interesting as they have received so little attention throughout history. The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen is a book about the Italian Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola, who spent many years painting portraits at the Spanish court, while Michelle Diener’s In A Treacherous Court features Susanna Horenbout, a Flemish artist who worked as an illuminator at the court of Henry VIII. And although she’s not the main focus of the novel, Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle is written partly from the perspective of Levina Teerlinc, another female artist working during the Tudor period and best known as a painter of miniatures.

I’m sure I must have read other books about artists but these are all I can think of at the moment (I have read plenty of books with fictional artists, but that would be a topic for a separate post), so now it’s your turn. Have you read any fiction about the lives and work of artists – of any nationality and from any time period? I would love some recommendations.

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!