Top Ten Ingredients of Favourite Historical fiction - A Writer of History

Here's a thoughtful discussion, sparked by historical fiction author Mary Tod and continued in a whole series of lively comments.

Top Ten Ingredients of Favourite Historical fiction - A Writer of History

I think she's got a good list of the most common features of popular historical fiction. But I don't take it as a recipe for my own work, and I don't suppose any serious writer would. For me, the aims of re-imagining events of the past are, first, to learn something that might be useful in our future actions, and second, to understand better how things got the way they are. My novel about the 1402 Ottoman siege of Constantinople (A Gift for the Sultan) is really about how any great city draws on its most diverse resources when under tremendous stress, and also about how such a polyglot, multiethnic and territorially expansive system as the Ottoman Empire (with all its consequences down to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and Syria today) got its start.

Drifting through Paris in the 1980s

Dans le café de la jeunesse perdueDans le café de la jeunesse perdue by Patrick Modiano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully told, sad story of a lost child of Paris in the 1980s, whose brief passage through their lives has left an indelible and unresolved impression on at least four men who knew her. Daughter of an unwed mother with a night job in Le Moulin Rouge, disappointed and ashamed because of her rejection of admission by the Lycée Jules-Ferry (her one attempt to escape her poor routine), Jacqueline Delanque drifts into a cocaine habit with a new, more sophisticated girlfriend, then drifts into the Café Condé where the habitual idlers baptize her "Louki"; she also allows herself to be pulled into an insipid marriage with the much older director of a real estate agency where she finds work as a temp, but finding no satisfaction in his house or his circle of friends, simply decides not to return there one night but to stay with a boyfriend almost as aimless as she. She is remembered years later by a former student in l'École de Mines, by the private investigator hired by her husband to find her, and by the boyfriend who perhaps, in his immature manner, also drifting, perhaps loved her.

Besides all these people, the quartiers of Paris, each with its social class connotations, and their changing character since those days when "Louki" frequented the Café Condé, are characters in the novel.

This is the first Modiano I've read. I'll want to read more of such beautiful, lyrical expression. And maybe improve my French enough to review him in that language.

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