Ep 106; World War I & Historical Fiction

Welcome to the latest episode of The Readers. This fortnight Simon and Thomas are back just the two of them to discuss discussing books ‘properly’ and to tell you what they have been reading, are reading and what they may very well be reading next…

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World War I in Fiction () As we commemorate 100 years since the beginning of World War I, Simon decided that he would like to talk about fiction set in World War I, after embarrassingly admitting that he has hardly read any books set in that time period and that he often mistakes the World Wars. Thomas is aghast. Anyway, they go through a selection of books that Thomas has read and that Simon might read. They would love more recommendations from you.


Historical Fiction () Leading on from their discussion of fiction set in World War I, Thomas and Simon decided to talk about the genre of historical fiction, one which neither of them think they like but actually (once you move away from the bodice rippers and the headless female covers) they realize they do. They discuss their favourite titles, eras and whether as a book ages it becomes a historical novel by accident.

Other Books Mentioned in this Episode (In Order) Hemlock Grove – Brian McGreevy, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh – Michael Chabon, A Month in the Country – J.L.Carr, All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque, Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks, Under Fire – Henry Barbusse, The Guns of August – Barbara Tuchman, Return of the Soldier – Rebecca West,  Out of this Furnace – Thomas Bell, Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf, A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway, Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Wood, Regeneration – Pat Barker, Parade’s End – Ford Maddox Ford, Ashenden – W. Somerset Maugham, His Last Bow – Arthur Conan Doyle, Strange Meeting – Susan Hill, A Testament of Youth – Vera Britten, Wilfred and Aileen – Jonathan Smith, Journey’s End – R.C Sherriff, Warhorse – Michael Morpurgo, One of Ours – Willa Cather, Willam an Englishman – Cicely Hamilton, The Forsythe Saga – John Galsworthy, The Observations – Jane Harris, Gillespie and I – Jane Harris, Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth, Wolf Hall – Hillary Mantel, The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory, The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller, The Girl With The Pearl Earring – Tracey Chevalier, Small Island – Andrea Levy, HHhH – Laurent Binet, The Club Dumas – Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Hundred Year House – Rebecca Makkai, The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai.

Next time on the Readers () Thomas and Simon will be back in two weeks with more book based banter. Before then Simon will be back next Tuesday with You Wrote The Book! Until next time thanks again for listening…

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17 thoughts on “Ep 106; World War I & Historical Fiction

  1. Any reason why the last few episodes have not downloaded on iTunes? They show up in the Reader’s podcast listing but are not downloading. When I click on the arrow in the listing, they do not download. I have been downloading them from this page (bookbasedbanter… etc.) and then opening them in iTunes, which works fine. All of the other podcasts that I subscribe to are downloading fine, as usual.

  2. This episode makes me want to read some more WWI fiction now. I’ve read some in the past, but not much. Hemingway is the only author who pops into my head that I’ve read, since in high school I read most of his novels and all the short stories. I need to reread them sometime though, I remember enjoying his work but can’t put my finger on why.

    • I just noticed today that I have an as yet unread Edith Wharton novel called A Son at the Front that is supposedly considered an anti-war masterpiece. At least according to the Goodreads blurb. I just wish I knew where my copy is.

  3. The First World War is a discernible presence in the earliest “Golden Age” mysteries, particularly those of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. I have mixed feelings about the books of the late Timothy Findlay, though I agree “The Wars” is a dark masterpiece. I don’t normally care for novels which feature real historical figures, but his “Famous Last Words” is a great book which deals with World War II. The 25 year definition of “historical fiction” seems a bit off to me, especially when you consider how often authors draw from their past experiences. Would heavily auto-biographical novels like “Doctor Zhivago”, “The Go-Between”, or “Love for Lydia” be considered historical? For me, historical fiction recreates a long-distant time period. An intriguing example of this kind of book would be Anne Hebert’s “Kamouraska”, which was published in the 1970s, but is a retelling of an adulterous murder case from rural Quebec in the 1830s.

    • I agree about you Timothy Findlay comments. I quite liked Famous Last Words and some others, but not all of his books float my boat. I do think, however, that he should be read more widely outside of Canada.

      I think I agree with you as well on the 25-year definition for historical fiction.

  4. Had to giggle about the DNA quote. My dad graduated from college in the late ’50s. I polled the family over supper and we all agreed he would never say, “it’s in our DNA,” but he might say something like, “it’s in your *genes*” or “you get that from my side, etc.”
    Loved this episode – it provided a lot of good discussion fodder tonight. (Question for Thomas: Did you mention a Mark Pryor/Hugo Marsden title somewhere along the way that you had read/tried or am I mis-remembering where I heard it? – which frequently happens to me these days.) Thanks for a fun discussion.

  5. The only WWI novel that really jumps to mind is Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. I read it in high school and although I don’t recall many details, it’s always sort of haunted me.

  6. There are two glaring omissions here. Now, I say this only because I live in Canada (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and I need to post up and represent (y’heard?!?). Two novels by Joseph Boyden (who has become something of a national treasure here). The first one Three Day Road is an absolutely horrific depiction (which is right in line with Simon’s sentiment that this type of literature should be gasp-inducing) of a sniper in No Man’s Land. While not ostensibly about WWI, the depictions of warfare are some of the most visceral depictions of war (specifically, the witness to daily acts of carnage and how it numbs the soul only making you more effective at killing) I have ever read.

    2nd – The Orenda. Just read this. If you haven’t already. This takes place in 15th century Canada and places you right in the middle of an indigenous conflict between The Huron and Iroquois and the impact of the arrival of Jesuits. The writing is exciting, modern, and its structure propels the narrative at such a breakneck pace that it’s very, very difficult to put down. Like Wolf Hall and it’s sequel this is something I will recommend for years to come. Do yourself a favour folks – get to know Jospeh Boyden!!!

    P.s – I love your podcast.

  7. Just discovered your blog and podcast and am working my way back through the shows. Historical fiction is huge in Canada. One Canadian historical fiction book that is not frilly is “The Biggest Modern Woman in the World” by Susan Swan, which is about Anna Swan, a Nova Scotian giantess who joins PT Barnum’s circus and travels the world and even meets Queen Victoria. There are oodles of others though, including one that was written about Aristotle (as Simon was looking for books set in the Classical time period) called “The Golden Mean” by Annabel Lyon. There’s also the author Guy Vanderhaeghe who wrote a trilogy of historical novels that I haven’t read yet. The one my friend’s rave about is “The Englishman’s Boy,” which was made into a mini-series a few years ago.

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