Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

A God In Ruins

agod  A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2015

Borrowed from my public library.

The first book I read by Kate Atkinson was When Will There Be Good News? .  I remember devouring it, loving the characters, loving the writing.  I read all the Jackson Brodie books, and was excited to learn about Life After Life.

It took me weeks to read that book.  I kept picking it up and putting it down, not sure if I would ever get through it.  I think it was the time shifting, creating a kind of vertigo, much like the main character, Ursula Todd, felt, constantly dying and being reborn.  I ended up finishing the book, really enjoying it, and amazed at Atkinson’s writing abilities, at how different Life After Life was from her other novels.

Atkinson calls A God In Ruins a companion piece to Life After Life.  I read it over five days, taking it in at a moderate pace. It follows the life of Ursula’s younger brotherTeddy, and lovingly weaves in family members, Teddy’s parents, his wife, child and grandchildren.  It also shift chronologically, following the lives of these people in a way I found less jarring, filling in the Todd family story and allowing for mystery, elements of family drama that evolve because of events finally revealed at the end of the book.

There is history it both of these novels, World War II, the blitz, the British and Allied bombing of Germany.  Atkinson dug deep, she holds nothing back in her descriptions of the blitz, in the scenes of Teddy and his crew in their Halifax bomber, flying to and from their bombing runs.   A God In Ruins is beautifully written, deeply engaging and I found it emotionally honest.  I highly recommend it, even if you haven’t read Life After Life.

There, I’ve jumped in, glad to be back in the water.  I find myself reading more and more historical fiction lately, particularly World War I and World War II.  Not sure what that is about but any suggestions would be appreciated.

 

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Books, British, Historical Fiction, Kate Atkinson, Uncategorized

2013 Historical Fiction Challenge

HFReadingChallenge2013-V2I thought I might not join in any new challenges for 2013 but because of my developing love for historical fiction I was completely drawn in by this one.

The 2013 Historical Fiction Challenge is organized by Historical Tapestry.  There are many reading levels. I hope to complete the Renaissance Reader level and read 10 books, though at the rate I’ve been going it may be more.

Some books I plan on reading:

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 Historical Fiction Challenge, Books, Historical Fiction

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

Random House, New York, 1990

Borrowed from my library. Winner of the 1990 Man Booker Prize.

Another book I waited a long time to read.  I think I was intimidated by the mid-Victorian poetry angle, but I should have known.  It is A.S. Byatt.  Possession is a masterpiece.

A young academic, Roland Mitchell, stumbles upon drafts of unknown letters written by his research subject, romantic poet Randolf Henry Ash.  The drafts hint of a unknown relationship with a young women.  From this tiny hint, Roland discovers a possible link between Ash and poet, Christabel LaMotte and is pulled into a literary mystery that is layered, humorous and massively intelligent.   This novel is a deep exploration of romance,  love and possession.   What those emotions could have looked like in the past and how they can manifest in the present.  It is also a parody of modern academia,  pop culture and the cult of personality.

Complete with love letters and invented verse , Byatt uses the full range of her literary abilities.  Most chapters begin with bits of invented poems, myths or fairy tales.   Her poets, writing in the style of  Victorian romance, use language differently.  At one point she has a young French cousin of Christabel write a journal.  Again, the voice is completely different, drenched in the language of the time and expressing the cultural differences between a young lady raised in England and one raised in France.  I was constantly amazed at A.S. Byatt’s mix of history, literary knowledge and her ability with words.

Possession is also a love letter, to language, to reading and to writing of all sorts.  I was quickly drawn in, found myself moving backwards and forwards in the text, copying words, making notes and fully intend to read this book again.  Roland’s thoughts on re-reading Randalf Hanry Ash’s words discribe something of what I felt reading parts of Possession:

    There are readings – of the same text – that are dutiful, readings that map and dissect, readings that hear a rustling of unheard sounds, that count grey little pronouns for pleasure or instruction and for a time do not hear golden or apples.  There are personal readings which snatch for personal meanings, I am full of love, or disgust, or fear, I scan for love, or disgust, or fear.  There are – believe it – impersonal readings – where the mind’s eye sees the lines move onward and the mind’s ear hears them sing and sing.

Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark – readings when the acknowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or  satisfactorily,  runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how. In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense it was always there, that we the readers, knew it was always there, and have always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognized, become fully cognisant of, our knowledge.  From pages 511/512.

13 Comments

Filed under A.S. Byatt, British, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman

Picador, New York, 2008

From my TBR stack.  On the short list for the 2009 Orange Prize.

It is difficult taking a piece of history and turning it to fiction.  Helen Feldman has done that by taking a racial motivated  event from 1930’s America and using it to create a powerful historical novel.

In 1931 nine black teens ranging in age from 12 to 19,  jump a train traveling from Tennessee to Alabama, end up in a brawl with some white men and are accused of raping two white women.  The arrests and subsequent trials of the Scottsboro Boys drew national attention.

Scottsboro is told in two voices.  One, Alice Whittier, a reporter from New York City sent to cover the initial trial, is a whip-smart, well-educated white women from New York City with a trust fund. Distanced from her family and involved in a sexual relationship with her boss she is thrilled to be offered the story.  The other, Ruby Bates, is one of the accusers, manipulated by her “friend” Victoria Price and considered “poor white trash” by members of her own community.

The case is a magnet for the national media and for the Communist Party who hope to recruit more members from the south.  The C.P. sends lawyers from International Labor Defense to stand as defense attorneys for the accused.

Knowing some of the history of this case, including the fact that the crimes did not occur, does not detract from Scottsboro.  Feldman includes many of the  actual participants in her novel, using quotes from articles, reports and interviews as epigraphs for each chapter.  She gives voice to the politicians, reporters,  lawyers and defendants.

Ruby and Alice are central to Scottsboro but historical elements of the 30’s America add strength to the novel.  The descriptions of Jim Crow lynchings,  prison environments , the rampant racism, anti-Semitism and sexism pervasive throughout the country and the political maneuvering by the courts, the government and the Communist party are woven throughout and, for me, add to the sense of historical truth.

Feldman also includes other pieces of 1930’s American  history.  The depression, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Hooverville and The Bonus Army all have a place here.  Alice tells the story from the future, reflecting on all that has happened to the country, to the 9 defendants, to Ruby and in her own life since that fateful train ride from Chattanooga.

I enjoyed this novel and would like to read more about Scottsboro, including  Remembering Scottsboro by James A. Miller and Stories of Scottsboro by James E. Goodman.

3 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, OrangePrize, Review, TBR Double Dare