Historical Fiction: Twilight of Courage

When I was on vacation last week, I talked about the idea of writing historical fiction with 1Mom (see About Me #7 to decipher this code). While part of me finds the idea appealing — I like history, I like fiction, put the two together — another bit of me is semi-appalled at the idea. I think this comes from thinking about the sort of cranked-out historical fiction that gives both history and fiction a bad name. This week I’m going to have a look at anything that resembles historical fiction that popped up on my read-more-than-three-times list. That should give me a better idea of what historical fiction that I really like looks like. So come along for the ride.

The Twilight of Courage by Bodie and Brock Thoene is about the beginning of WW2. I have read this book three times, but the last reading was a little over 11 years ago. This means that lately I have not had the desire to pick it up. I’ve found the Thoenes quite interesting at first read, but the books just don’t hold up under re-reading. I found the Zion Covenant series, which is linked to ToC, interesting on a first read, and was willing to read them again. Then I read my comments on the second reading — I was not impressed at all. This is not generally a good sign — if books don’t stand a second reading, they are generally not that well done.

If I read my notes correctly, and if memory serves, Thoene & Thoene don’t have a single point-of-view character. The novel jumps from thread to thread around Europe, picking up and, at times, linking the stories of a variety of characters. This sort of story-telling can get a bit disjointed and, if one is not careful, can confuse the reader. Confusing the reader is not helpful.

I like books set in WW2 — not sure why, but I’ve read a lot of them. Of course, it is the quintessential spy/war setting for the second half of the 20th C, so it does get used a lot as a backdrop. I made a note that Thoene & Thoene use real people (Churchill) as characters in their works, and I wasn’t fond of the way that was done. I’ve seen the use of historical people in other novels that didn’t set my teeth on edge — I’m not sure what didn’t work here, but there was something off.

To sum up: at one time I liked the sort of books the Thoenes write, but I’m not sure they are literature, let alone great literature. The books tend toward the stuff that sets off warning bells in my head and make me not want to write historical fiction.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Historical Fiction: Twilight of Courage

  1. Christine Curley

    Have you read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak? Incredible book set in WWII wth a supernatural twist. I wish I could write like him.

  2. No Christine, sounds good. I’ll put it on my list of Books To Find!

  3. I think I got my WW2 historical fiction started with The Shadow Series by Piet Prins when I was a kid.

  4. Christine

    This is historical rather than historical fiction, but have you read Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand? It’s pretty incredible.

    In terms of WW2 HF — children’s lit subset — I’d recommend Kit Pearson’s Guests of War trilogy: The Sky is Falling, Looking at the Moon, and The Lights Go On Again. It follows the story of a sibling pair sent from England to Canada during the war. Very very good.

  5. AnnaT

    LOVED Kit Pearson as a kid – and the Zion Covenant is book marked on my phone as search out for. Totally hear you about the hybrid… discernment is the key really. I.e read the Help for book club, although the book does depict a historical period (well, for me anyways) it was really just like these characters were painted into a photo of the South 1960… as opposed to dynamic gripping story that is propelled by the marching on of time that is now what we see as history. I recently just finished Wanting by Richard Flanagan – a novel set partly in Van Diemenï’s Land (Tasmania) and partly England; it follows the Dickens and the Northwest Passage Explorer Sir John Franklin, the historical timing of the events, dialogue and even to a certain extent motives, feelings and actions of the characters are truly shaped by the world in which they live. The dialogue I have had with myself about this book is really timeless, as many of themes resonate in our current time and space. I feel like a GOOD story set in the past will ALWAYS propel you to examine your current stance of life in the present. Unlike books like The Help, which i feel (don’t get me wrong the book is entertaining) leaves you looking back to the past with critical eye and thinking we have “so overcome all that!” …. maybe I am wrong, but this is just want I think..

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