The best novels to re-vision history

Maggie Humm Author Of Talland House
By Maggie Humm

The Books I Picked & Why

Hamnet

By Maggie O'Farrell

Book cover of Hamnet

Why this book?

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, Hamnet is the poignant story of Agnes, Shakespeare’s wife, and her life in Stratford on Avon far away from Shakespeare and his London theatres. Agnes is a pioneering herbalist, but even her cures cannot save her son Hamnet from the plague sweeping England. Having written two historical novels, I am in awe of O’Farrell’s ability to recreate the whole texture of Agnes’s Elizabethan world so convincingly. The ending is a tour de force revealing why Shakespeare entitled Hamlet after his dead son.  


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The Joyce Girl

By Annabel Abbs

Book cover of The Joyce Girl

Why this book?

1928 Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music, literature, and dance. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer, training with some of the world's most gifted performers. When a young Samuel Beckett comes to work for her father, she's captivated by his quiet intensity and falls passionately in love. Her unrequited obsession leads to treatment by Carl Jung and finally an asylum. My books aim to bring alive women artists hidden from history, and The Joyce Girl creates a powerful portrait of an artist unable to fulfill her talent.


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Blood & Sugar

By Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Book cover of Blood & Sugar

Why this book?

Winner of the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award, Blood & Sugar is a page-turner of a crime thriller set in London and Greenwich 1781. Captain Harry Corsham must discover why his old friend the abolitionist Tad Archer was murdered. Corsham’s quest may do irreparable damage to the slave trade. I live in Greenwich, much of which is unchanged architecturally since the eighteenth century. Walking the streets portrayed in the novel brings alive that world. Slave trade monuments are currently being taken down in the UK and US and Blood & Sugar depicts the beginnings of that emotional and necessary journey.


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The Architect's Apprentice

By Elif Shafak

Book cover of The Architect's Apprentice

Why this book?

Evoking the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, The Architect’s Apprentice depicts the boy Jahan’s magical life after he brings the first white elephant to the Sultan. Falling in love with Princess Mihrimah, Jahan must survive in a treacherous court. I was privileged to share a talk and book signing day with Elif Shafak in Hatchard’s, London in 2021 and learnt so much from this wonderful, empathetic author about her writing and historical recreations.


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Miss Austen: A Novel of the Austen Sisters

By Gill Hornby

Book cover of Miss Austen: A Novel of the Austen Sisters

Why this book?

A #1 bestseller. 1840: After Jane Austen’s death, her sister Cassandra must find and destroy any letters which may reveal a darker side of Jane. An emotional novel about the lives and loves of Cassandra and Jane Austen. Miss Austen, like my book, takes a sideways glance at a famous writer (in my case Virginia Woolf) - and ingeniously tries to imagine literary lives, from a fresh perspective. It is so rare in novels to find a convincing central woman character (Cassandra) who is elderly. As a 76-year-old myself, I found Hornby’s depiction of the difficulties (and joys) of elderly life so truthful.


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