As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite book genres is historical fiction (the other two are travel stories and historical biographies). We’ve suggested tons of real historical people whose lives deserve to be put on screen, but there’s also tons of fiction just waiting to be mined … and no, we don’t need yet another adaptation of Anna Karenina. It’s been done. We’ve suggested some classic works that really need adaptations, but there’s tons of great historical fiction being published today that would be worthy of screen time!
Sure, there have been a lot of amazing books that have been translated to screen, but here are five more that are really itching for a (WELL DONE) adaptation. So if you’re looking for a good book to read, take these as a strong recommendation! And hey, if you’ve got the ear of any Hollywood types, shove these books at them!
An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan
“The stupidest people suddenly become a little cleverer when we learn that they think well of us.”
“I confess I found it somewhat insipid when I last went….it was all so prosy – so bonnety – so whisty and teacuppy – you see, the adjectives for it do not even exist, and I must invent them.”
In Regency England, Lydia rejected the obviously suitable bachelor ten years ago, and now is happy heading into Persuasion-esque spinsterdom… until she goes to Bath to help her young ward Phoebe try to sort out her own romantic situation.
If you like Jane Austen, you NEED to read Jude Morgan’s novels, because I have yet to find another author who 1. gets the Regency period so well, AND 2. manages to capture that little bit of snark and ironic humor that Austen laces through her books. It kind of annoys me that this is a male writer using a female pseudonym, but that’s really beside the point, because Morgan’s books are completely Austen-esque without being completely derivative the way all the “sequel to X Jane Austen novel” books are.
Of Morgan’s Austen-esque books, this one was my favorite, so I’d suggest starting here. And hey Hollywood, just like Lost in Austen and Death Comes to Pemberley managed to build on Austen yet provide new material, Jude Morgan’s books could do the same…
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
“It was such a hard thing, this virtue, it seemed to me. Keeping it was like having to grip the knife by the blade and defend yourself with the hilt. Ever since I’d been old enough to know about virtue in a woman, it had seemed like a bull’s-eye painted on my head in rouge. I was sure, as I was led away, I would be better off without it. It was better to be done with it and be gone.”
In 1880s Paris, Lilliet is a star opera singer, but a mysterious person finds a way to blackmail her about her past … and we then get to flash back through said past, as Lilliet goes from circus rider to upscale prostitute to lady’s maid to Empress Eugenie to opera singer. All of it is fascinating if slightly implausible, but the costume-lover in you will looooove the Empress Eugenie stuff, as Lilliet works as her dresser. There’s also just a lot of fabulous fin-de-siècle Paris to enjoy!
Longbourn by Jo Baker
“Life was, Mrs. Hill had come to understand, a trial by endurance, which everybody, eventually, failed.”
Have you ever even noticed that there are servants in Pride and Prejudice? Other than housekeeper Mrs. Hill, there are about two brief mentions that would indicate servants. However, given the class level of the Bennet family, and given the domestic stuff the characters don’t do, they have to be there. Jo Baker fleshes out who they would have been and tells their story via housemaid Sarah. What I found most interesting about this book was that it’s not Pride and Prejudice through the servants’ eyes; yes, the plot intertwines occasionally with that of P&P, but it’s much more about the servants themselves in a way that’s actually quite satisfying. This isn’t just another “Jane Austen novel told through a different character.” Second, it’s actually a really sad book, but in a well-done way. It’s not maudlin or cheesy, but really quite affecting.
Life Mask by Emma Donoghue
“The days of my vanity are over and heaven knows they weren’t happy enough to regret.”
Based on a true story, Anne Seymour Damer was a late 18th-century British sculptor who became entangled with Eliza Farren, the leading actress of her day. The story is about Anne’s emotions for Eliza, but also the politics and social mores of upper-class London society in the 1780s. I haven’t yet read a modern fictional account that gave me a better feeling for an 18th-century world view and an understanding for how the 18th-century English aristocratic world worked. And it’s just beautifully written and an engaging story!
The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
“After all, he meant well. Foreigners never seem to understand how little attraction an island of damp fogs, cut off from civilization, and a provincial little court has for us Parisians, who inhabit the most cultivated, powerful monarchy in the world.”
Is the sadly now-deceased Riley the world’s best author? Nope. Did she write insanely entertaining and readable historical stories? Yes, and too few. If you haven’t read any of her books, drop what you are doing and DO SO — and start with this one:
Genevieve is a small, plain orphan living in late 17th-century France. She gets taken in by La Voisin, a famous fortune teller and possible poisoner to the French court. Genevieve is transformed into the mysterious and magical Madame de Morville, a fashionable fortune teller, and gets far too involved into the scandal that would become “The Affair of the Poisons,” in which many French courtiers, including the mistress of Louis XIV, were charged with involvement in a far-reaching plot to poison various important nobles including the king. We’ve talked before about how the Affair of the Poisons needs a good telling, this fictional account would be a great approach!
What are your suggestions for modern historical fiction that would be perfect for a screen adaptation?