BBT’s Best Books of 2015: Historical Novels

In 2015, three novels of historical fiction stood out form the pack. Or should I say, the bookshelf. Their authors reimagined the loves and trials of prominent figures from the past. In each case, the reader gets to delve into the minds of the characters to find out what emotions and influences that set them on their paths. Warning: these books are so good, fiction may just become better than reality.

All TruAllTrueNotALieInIte Not a Lie in It by Alix Hawley blew me away. It examines the life and trials of Daniel Boone in a fresh, new light. So many gorgeous passages. Heart-stopping narration. Don’t want to take my word for it? Well, it won the 2015 Amazon.ca First Novel award in May. This fall, it was longlisted for the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize. Read my review, then check out the author’s blog for more info about her writing process and fun facts about Daniel Boone. Then, get your hands on the novel. If you get sad when you finish reading it, take solace in knowing that Hawley is working on the sequel as we speak.

 

MarriageofOppositesIf you’ve been following my blog, you may know that I love author Alice Hoffman‘s work. She delivers. Every. Time. It’s no surprise that her latest novel, The Marriage of Opposites, made my list of 2015’s best historical novels. It is the story of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro and his family. Inspired by Latin American literature, this multi-generational story is laced with bursts of passion and shades of magic realism. Oh, and the ending? It’s perfect.

 

The mytholoVanessa_Cover_Onegy of Virginia Woolf has been the subject of several films and books over the years. Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar can be added to that list under the heading “inventive point of view”. The epistolary novel is made up primarily of fictional journal entries by Virginia’s older sister, Vanessa.  Under the suffocating shadow of her sister, Vanessa finds the strength to grow as an artist, a mother, and a lover. Reading her story through journals, letters, and postcards was an intimate, memorable experience. I read the book and wrote a review nearly a year ago, but still find myself thinking about the characters today.

What was your favourite historic novel of 2015?

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DANIEL BOONE REINVENTED: All True Not a Lie in It by Alix Hawley

AlixHawleyCover

All True Not a Lie in It by Alix Hawley
Knopf Canada, February 10, 2015.
384 pages, 29,95$.

Alix Hawley’s debut novel All True Not a Lie in It examines the life and trials of Daniel Boone in a new light. The author tells us the story of the mythic figure with such raw, powerful emotions and vivid details you’ll trick yourself into thinking it is a true narrative. In fact, this book interweaves the concepts of truth, fiction, facts, and imaginings so tightly they become indistinguishable from one another.

Daniel grew up in a Quaker community. He yearned for the American Dream —for his piece of paradise. He admired his older brother and followed in his footsteps by adopting the lifestyle of the First Nations people. He escaped in the wilderness of the American frontier for years. As a wild youth. As a newly married man. As a white man warned by the Shawnee to leave their land alone.

I travel all through the forest whenever the weather is warm, and I hunt through the autumns and winters. I bring the meat to my family, I sell the hides down in Salisbury. Selling the hides takes the shine from it. The traders’ fingers are blunt and unseeing. If there were a way, I would slap the skins back on the carcasses and send the creatures off, to have more to catch again. Selling them does bring me plenty of money, enough to bring home and keep some over. I buy a new gun. I am fond of money. And I wish for more than I have. More of everything.

The first-person narration makes you feel like you are in the thick of the action at Daniel’s side. Or better yet, in his mind. A wizened Daniel recounts his life story the ghost of his past. You’ll ache when he shares his losses and regrets. His dry humour will make you chuckle. Always, he will make you ache to learn what happens next.

Hawley brings the 1700’s to life with gorgeous prose and keen insight. My one complaint: I wanted the story to go on. The novel doesn’t cover the entire 86 years of Daniel Boone’s life. The author could have kept my undivided attention for another 300 pages. Knopf Canada is marketing Alix Hawley as the “new face of fiction” —a bold, on-the-mark statement I will second any day.

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*