Saturday, September 27, 2014
10 Best Historical Novels
Alix Christie's novel Gutenberg's Apprentice is a stand-out debut that takes readers into Gutenberg’s 15th-century Mainz workshop to experience the frustration and exhilaration of designing, typesetting, and rolling the first printed Bible off the press. Christie picks 10 of her favorite historical novels.
The historical novels I admire inhabit their worlds so fully that as a reader I feel I'm breathing the air of that distant place or time. This has less to do with historical detail than with a freshness of language, tone and incident that makes the concerns of the characters so recognizably human that they feel almost contemporary. The ability to transport us into different minds is a hallmark of good literature generally; the bar is set even higher when a story's setting is truly foreign. Lots of period detail does not necessarily make a compelling story; many of my favorites in this list are short distillations that transport us poetically to another world.
1. The Inheritors by William Golding - Quite simply the most astonishing piece of historical ventriloquism ever. Golding wrote several historical novels, including his brilliant "The Spire," but this one is told from the point of view of characters few authors would dare to imagine: the Neanderthals. The short, intense encounter between "the people" and the invaders we recognize as Homo sapiens is poignant and terrible, seen as it is through the eyes of the pre-man Lok. Golding imagines Lok's consciousness as simple and sweet, possessed of pre-literate abilities to share ideas as "pictures," but no match for the aggressive new people, the "bone faces."