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Shelf Isolation: 7 Historical Novels to Escape to in Lockdown

When reading, I love nothing more immersing myself in another time or place I have never been, where I am propelled into the lives of characters whose world is so removed from my own. It's why I love historical fiction. Here are some of my favourites, that will, I hope, be the perfect escape.

The Epics

WolF Hall, Bring Up The Bodies and The Mirror and the Light

by Hilary Mantel

If you haven’t yet read these evocative novels, now is the time. Telling the story of the rise and fall of Henry VIII’s right hand man, Thomas Cromwell, every page seethes with the life of the Tudor court and the sounds, smells and sights of the sixteenth century. This is far more than just well-written historical fiction; this is vibrant world-building, biting and vivacious.

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Outside the Gates of Eden

by Lewis Shiner

Two teenagers meet in the summer of 1965 and, inspired by their hero, Bob Dylan, decide to form a band. The novel follows them through the next five decades, into the Summer of Love, the hope of those years, and the disillusion that followed. Described by George R.R. Martin as ‘a brilliant requiem for our generation and all our dreams’, it’s an epic about music and friendship, with a phenomenal soundtrack to boot.



Washington Black

by Esi Edugyan

When field slave Washington's plantation in Barbados is taken over by two Wilde brothers, he is taken on as the eccentric 'Titch' Wilde's personal servant. Titch is an eccentric scientist whose lofty ambition to build an aerial machine will take Washington on a life-changing - and perilous - adventure. Supreme adventure writing unlike any other that was deservedly shortlisted for the Booker Prize.



The Love Stories

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

by Chris Cleave

An  exquisite and unsentimental Second World War novel, which follows Mary, a debutante who leaves finishing school unfinished to join the war efforts. Although Mary is disappointed at the lack of glamour at being appointed a school teacher rather than a spy, what follows is a stunning love story set on the home front that so beautifully evokes the period.


Love is Blind

by William Boyd

When conscientious piano tuner Brodie is offered a job in Paris, he jumps at the chance to leave Edinburgh to escape his puritanical father. When he falls in love with a rising opera singer, his passion takes him around Europe, and leads to devastating consequences. Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous change of nineteenth century Europe, Love is Blind is an extraordinary novel about love and fate, with such a rich setting, you can’t help but feel that you are travelling Europe with Brodie.




The Summer House Party

by Caro Fraser

In 1936, a group of bright young things descend on the country house of an older family friend for a long weekend. There passions are lit, mistakes are made and when the weekend is marred by a sudden and tragic death, each leaves with secrets that will reverberate over the coming years. It’s a glorious period piece with brilliant characters that unravels the way that we often walk blindfolded towards political and personal crisis.



The Thrillers


by Sarah Waters

Lesbian bodice ripper, twisting thriller, historical caper, Fingersmith defies genre. Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, grows up among petty thieves – fingersmiths – under the rough care of Mrs Sucksby and her ‘family’. But when she is sent to be the companion to a wealthy young woman, her life changes forever. Fingersmith is a jaw-dropping, rip-roaring romp through Victorian England that wins BookBar’s award for most shocking plot twists.



The Luminaries

by Eleanor Catton

Set amidst the New Zealand gold rush of the 19th century, Eleanor Catton’s novel is a superbly plotted, epic historical thriller. Over the course of this 800-page novel, thirteen men come together to solve three crimes: the disappearance of a wealthy man, the suicide attempt of a sex worker and the discovery of a huge fortune in a wastral’s home. A magnificent historical drama.



This Lovely City

by Louise Hare

Lawrie has sailed across the ocean on the Empire Windrish to begin a new life of Blitz-wrought London, spending his days as a postman and his nights soaking up the jazz scene of Soho's music halls. But when he makes a terrible discovery and finds himself on the wrong end of a murder investigation he realises his new home isn't quite as lovely as he thought. This vibrant novel is so much more than a crime novel. It's an evocative story about prejudice, love and family that's full of heart and hope with a buzzing post-war London setting.



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