5 must-read HIS­TOR­I­CAL NOV­ELS

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - BOOKS -

1. I, Claudius by Robert Graves, 1934.

WHAT: Fic­tion­alised biography of the Ro­man em­peror, told as though it were an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, from the long reign of Au­gus­tus to Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius him­self. A stut­ter­ing Claudius tells us his own fas­ci­nat­ing story, with an in­sider’s look at the mul­ti­far­i­ous plots and traitors. WHY: This su­perb tract paved the way for an epic BBC TV se­ries in 1976, star­ring Derek Ja­cobi with his un­for­get­table “pud­ding bowl” hair­cut.

2. Wolf Hall by Hi­lary Man­tel, 2009.

WHAT: Man­tel rewrites English his­tory from 1527 to 1535 with Thomas Cromwell – as great a states­man as Eng­land has ever seen – as the hero. He es­capes his drunken black­smith fa­ther, but re­garded as a low-born out­sider – now with a di­rect line to King Henry VIII – is seen as un­fit by the rest of court, other than his men­tor, Car­di­nal Wolsey. WHY: This Booker Prize win­ning novel brings new pas­sion to the Tu­dors.

3. A Tale of Two Ci­ties by Charles Dick­ens, 1859.

WHAT: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dick­ens writes in the open­ing lines of this tale of the French Rev­o­lu­tion. The year is 1775, and Jarvis Lorry trav­els from Lon­don to Paris on a se­cret mis­sion for his bank em­ployer, ac­com­pa­nied by 17-year-old Lu­cie Manette. WHY: The strug­gle to hang onto san­ity un­der sys­temic abuse is as rel­e­vant to­day. “Sow the same seed of... op­pres­sion again, and it will surely yield the same fruit.”

4. The Se­cret Chord by Geral­dine Brooks, 2015.

WHAT: The minute de­tails of this an­cient world make The Se­cret Chord chime... this and the com­plexly drawn char­ac­ter of King David him­self. He is both hero and tyrant, vi­sion­ary and despot, a ge­nius at war­fare who plucks ex­quis­ite chords from his harp. The con­tra­dic­tions are tan­ta­lis­ing. WHY: Brooks re­searched it for three years. “I trav­elled to the land and walked the places David is said to have walked,” she says. Her re­search shows.

5. Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Ke­neally, 1982.

WHAT: Oskar Schindler was a cap­i­tal­ist, a black mar­ke­teer, a wom­an­iser and a boozer who made his for­tune at his fac­tory dur­ing the war, as well as a longserv­ing mem­ber of the Nazi party. Yet he risked his life and his liveli­hood to pro­tect Jews, by giv­ing them jobs at his fac­to­ries, the “ark” of the book’s ti­tle. WHY: Schindler’s List be­came an Os­car-win­ning film. “If this fac­tory ever pro­duces a shell that can ac­tu­ally be fired, I’ll be very un­happy,” said Schindler.

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