Friday, June 1, 2012

June: historical fiction

I'm not even going to speculate on the possibilities for my reading this month because I probably have more historically-based fiction than anything else in my library, well wait -- that's if you don't count the crime fiction.  There are crossovers -- literary historical fiction, historical crime fiction, yada yada yada; but to me if it's set in the past, it's a work of historical fiction.  Should be a good month.


  1. I caught an interesting discussion on the radio the other day about what qualified as historical fiction. The speaker suggested that it had to be at least fifty years in the past. Do you have any view on this?

    1. Great question, Alex! 50 years ago as of right now would be 1962. So does that mean that if I read fictional novels about Argentina's Dirty War that lasted from 1976-1983, The Rwandan Genocide of the 1980s, the Falklands War of 1982, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or about the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s that I shouldn't consider these novels "historical fiction" since these things all happened after 1962? My humble opinion: I think not! They're all historical events to me, and I was around in 1989. Personally, I think it's a matter of reader perspective and reader discretion; as an example, 9/11 happened ten years ago but I wouldn't consider novels written around that event historical. Case in point, Amy Waldman's novel The Submission, which I would term "contemporary fiction."

      Actually, your question made me go to the internet to see what others had to say. The Historical Novel Society notes the following (all bolding and italics are mine):

      "There are problems with defining historical novels, as with defining any genre. When does ‘contemporary’ end, and ‘historical’ begin? What about novels that are part historical, part contemporary? And how much distortion of history will we allow before a book becomes more fantasy than historical?

      There will never be a satisfactory answer to these questions, but these are the arbitrary decisions we’ve made.

      To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research)."

      The carefully-researched novel takes care of the 50-year business.

      However, I probably should have made a qualification when I wrote on my post "but to me if it's set in the past, it's a work of historical fiction." I wouldn't consider, for example, Charles Dickens' work historical fiction -- while the Victorian period is historical to us, his work reflected his contemporary society. I'd label it "Victorian literature."


I don't care what you say about what I write, but do be nice. Thanks!