Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Historical Fiction Conundrum

I read a lot of historical fiction; it's always fascinated me. I remember reading Little Women in fifth grade--I hid it inside my desk and read while the rest of the class droned through social studies' read aloud time(I figured out what paragraph would be mine to read aloud since it was round robin style reading, marked it, and was able to get back to Jo and her sisters). I also loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond and probably several others whose names are escaping me right now. But it was really Jean Plaidy and her numerous tomes on British history that pulled me during junior and senior high. She was the mark against which I measured other historical fiction for years. God bless Jean Plaidy.

As an adult, I discovered Sharon Kay Penman when I read When Christ and His Saints Slept. From there, I never looked back as I made my way through just about anything and everything historical. My current favorite author is Elizabeth Chadwick. She's the one who brings history to life in a way that sizzles. I can picture myself in the midst of any story she's written. The woman deserves a much, much wider audience. She's soooo good. Her research and accuracy drive the stories she writes, and it shows.

With all that said, I've gotten increasingly pickier the older I've gotten. It just bugs me to no end when someone is historically inaccurate. Small liberties don't bother me, such as moving an incident in time a bit to make it fit with the author's overall vision. But when things are blatantly wrong, it just floors me that an editor lets it slide. It's one thing to put your interpretation on an event based in fact, and quite another to not have done your research well enough to get names and places correct. A book I've read recently has some glaringly bad anachronisms in it, and I feel as though the author is deceiving her audience, most of whom probably don't know British history as well as I do. I think many will swallow her ideas hook, line, and sinker. Granted, I don't think the author probably knows she's made such glaring mistakes, but isn't that her responsibility? Or does she and the editor believe that it's okay to not fully research the facts just because they want to publish a book?

So, now here comes the hard part--when I do reviews, does it matter enough to point out the historically inaccurate things so that others aren't taken in by ignorance? Or should I just go for the overall feel of the book? I review on, and I know most people reading reviews there aren't as picky as I am about accuracy. But shouldn't they be? Because if the author is sloppy enough to give sons to a well known Duke who obviously didn't have any, or play fast and loose with births and deaths, doesn't that give all historical fiction a poor name if it eventually comes to light? Or am I too maniacal about all this?

I respect authors who have spent time thoroughly researching their subjects because I believe it comes through in their writing. The sad thing is, a good deal of those authors aren't quite as popular as some who either deliberately spin the facts or just don't give a damn about getting it all straight. It bothers me to think that a lot of people take Philippa Gregory's novels as truth, for example. She's a great writer, but her accuracy could be questioned on several points. But is it worth pointing out the inaccuracies? Does anyone even care? Or is it just about the tale?



Teddy Rose said...

I think that if you feel that strongly, that you should point out the glaring inaccuracies. Just besure to point out the good bits too. That way people can decide for themselves if they will read it or not.

As you know, historical fiction is my favorite too. When I read a really good book I usually want to know more and with do a bit a research myself. That way I know what is fact and what is fiction.

I do prefer the more well researched historicals too. However, it is historical fiction, which let's the author off the hook in my mind. I really like when the author includes a note at the back pointing out what was fact and fiction! It l;et me know that they did do their research and really care about history.

BTW, I am grateful every day that I don't live close to my mom! LOL! I love her but she can be quite controlling. A big reason why I move thousand ofr mile away. I needed space! I always feel like I need to go for therapy after I come home from a viswt with her. LOL!

Thank goodness she is not computer literate or she would be following me around the blogisphere. Boy would I get a guilt trip about this post.

Kris said...

I say point it out. Do your normal review, mentioning if you liked it, etc. but then put in a section just mentioning that you noticed some inaccuracies and what they were.

I'm one that probably would never be able to pick them out, but would still appreciate it if somebody mentioned the book was accurate or not.

Beachreader said...

As one who has learned quite a lot about history through reading novels, I want them to be historically accurate. It isn't as if the facts are difficult to check in this age of the internet. If a person wants to play with the facts, the should put historical figures in their novel. Do, I do hope that you will mention this. Saying something like it would have been a five star read except that I was taken out of the story so many times by in inaccuracies/anachronisms.

Doubtful Muse said...

I'm with the "point it out and mention the good parts too" people. Inaccuracies don't always bother me too much (although they can), but in reality, it's to the author's benefit to have it made clear that readers value accuracy -- and they do. If no one tells them, particularly in important things like reviews, then why should an author or editor take the trouble to be sure everything is historically accurate? (It is a lot of trouble; I know this from personal experience!)

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

It's difficult because levels of inaccuracy have different tolerance levels for each person. I even hate it when dates are changed round to suit the story line. Imagine someone shifting '9/11' because it didn't suit their heroine's timing. There'd be an uproar. The past is owed the same integrity as the present - which very swiftly becomes history. However, I know lots of readers aren't as picky. I say myself that I'm at the obsessively picky end. I have an e-mail to send to you in the next few daysand I have a strong example from my current read of something that no ordinary reader will pick up, but which dragged me straight out of the novel with a loud laugh.
I digress (rolls eyes). I would say in your review that inaccuracies disturbed your reading pattern perhaps cite a particularly start example, but be balanced and fair.