As someone who considers themselves an avid reader (albeit, I could always read more if I just found more time!), a few years ago, if someone had asked if I was a fan of historical fiction, I would have said no. If I was to read about history, it had to be 100%, unequivocally true and factual. Say, in the vein of The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen, where it reads like fiction, but is 100% truth.
But then some bookish friends started recommending some historical fiction books, and I found I actually enjoyed them. To intermix real history with a fictional character and story line made the history learning more fun. And easy. No one likes to read tomes of historical non-fiction- full of dates and names and places no one can pronounce (okay, maybe a few people like that stuff).
Some standouts of historical fiction for me:
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
On May 13 this year, I underwent a bilateral salpingoophrectomy- both of my ovaries were removed laproscopically because their estrogen was what fed my breast cancer. Because I had to spend a few days “taking it easy”, I started reading the Josephine B trilogy. These books are penned by Sandra Gulland who has a few other novels I may just have to check out now. The first one was published in 1995, the second in 1998, and the third in 2000. Her research methods are interesting and fascinating and you can read about them here.
The first book is The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. I LOVE how it was written as Rose’s diary- made it very fast to read.
It is the first of a trilogy so it was engaging enough for me to continue reading the other books. What I loved the most was that she is a real figure in history- married to a French revolutionary and then to Napoleon (before he was an Emperor). Sandra writes a fictional ideal of what Rose may have experienced as a 14 year old girl, married at 16, the mother of 2 children, wife of a spoiled revolutionary, imprisoned and moving up in the royalist class in France. Eventually she meets Napoleon Bonaparte, and her life changes again. It took a LOT of research to put this novel together. (for the rest of my review, go here.)
The second book is Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe. About as good, maybe even a faster read than the first.
This one was even less like a diary than the the first, where there are longer passages with great detail that one would not write in a diary. Though there are longer lapses in dates….when Josephine is injured, when they are packing up to move….obviously she could not write during these times, and these lapses make historical sense.
It is a slow roller (and yet a fast read, perfect combo!). Though she is married to Bonaparte, her own rise does not occur until the last 20 pages. It does not take away from the book, however. You can feel Josephine’s tenseness, when her son and husband are out of contact, when her friends won’t speak to her, over the betrayal that must occur for the country to move on. (for the rest of my review, go here.)
The third book is The Last Great Dance on Earth. The speed of this book (timeline-wise) is much faster than the first two books.
Still sort-of written in the style of a diary, though each book progressively moved away from that. In this book, large chunks of her “diary” did not read like a diary, but more like just paragraphs of historical fiction. I’m okay with this, but if your plan is to tell the story through her diary, then stick to the plan. Or have some chapters be her diary and some not. Anyway, her children are grown up, married off, have children of their own, while Josephine struggles to conceive the heir Napoleon so desperately needs to secure the empire. His own siblings continue to be horrible people. Watching that (reading it) is tortuous…you want to reach through the pages and slap them. I also find the “medicine” interesting, in the treatments that she went through to become fertile again.
More wars, more wins, then the coup de grace. This part of the book..the last 1/4 or so is sad. You can feel Josephine’s melancholy, her sorrow, her internal struggle.(for the rest of my review, go here.)
So that is it!
My review of this great trilogy. I’m shipping them off to a colleague of mine who said she thinks she will enjoy them. I hope you do as well, and would love to hear what your thoughts are if you dive in to them!