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BOOK LIST: Favourite Books set in the 17th Century by Katherine Clements

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today on the blog, please welcome Katherine Clements who wrote THE CRIMSON RIBBON, a historical novel set in the tiem of Oliver Cromwell which I absolutely loved. I thought it was brilliant! 



Katherine has drawn up a list of her favourite books set in the 17th century - many of her favourites are favourites of mine too but there's a few I hadn't read and have gone straight on to my to-be-read list!

Over to Katherine: 


Restoration by Rose Tremain

This is one of my favourite novels and the one that first got me interested in 17th century history. Set during the early years of Charles II’s reign, it tells the story of Robert Merivel, an ambitious young medical student, seeking advancement in Restoration London. Finding favour with the King, Merivel is at first thrust into a life of opulence and dissipation, only to have everything taken away when he incurs Charles’s wrath. Meticulously researched and utterly convincing, the book perfectly captures some of the concerns of the age and is a great story, but the real triumph is in our leading man. Merivel is a fascinating character; fallible, self-centred and dissolute but always likeable, he’s a man of his time but also relevant and sympathetic to a modern reader. The ending of this novel is perfect. Tremain’s recent sequel Merivel is also excellent.

(Kate: I have not read this in many years - maybe I'd better dig it out and read again ...)



As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann


Anyone interested in the political background to The Crimson Ribbon should read As Meat Loves Salt. Set in the 1640s it follows the story of Jacob Cullen, a servant in a Royalist household (and possible murderer) who is forced to flee justice on the eve of his wedding day. We follow Jacob through a stint in Cromwell’s New Model Army, the printing trade in London, a forbidden love affair and his time as a member of an idealistic Digger community. A very rich read, dense with period detail and ideas, it’s a fantastic evocation of Civil War England through the eyes of one very troubled man. I also enjoyed McCann’s second novel The Wilding, which is set later in the 17th century and is a more intimate book, dealing with the lingering impact that the Civil Wars had on individuals and communities.

(Kate: I've heard of this before - its going on my to-be-read list!)



An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

The action in this novel is set in Restoration Oxford, and centres on a murder trial and the woman who stands accused. Told through the eyes of four narrators the truth is gradually revealed and completely gripping. I adored the depth of detail this book, the evocation of Oxford in the 1660s (a time of scientific, religious and political ferment), the strong, believable characters and the flawless writing. The amazing research here is evident as Pears brings to life some little known real-life characters and gives us insight into the 17th century mindset. It’s dark, fascinating and seductive. One of the books I wish I’d written.


The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Brooks mixes fact, popular belief and fiction in this brutal retelling of the story of the inhabitants of Eyam, a small Derbyshire village, who chose voluntary quarantine in an attempt to stop the spread of the Plague in 1666. Told through the eyes of Anna Frith, a young wife and mother, the novel recounts the harrowing events that follow. I read this while working on The Crimson Ribbon and it has many similarities. It deals with some of the same themes: a young, female protagonist dealing with injustice and prejudice, blurred boundaries in a close female friendship, religious zealotry, herb lore and accusations of witchcraft. I had high hopes and wasn’t disappointed. Brooks’ writing is beautiful and evocative. The story is one of grief, love, hardship and hope in adversity. I was thinking about this book long after I put it down.

(Kate: This is one of my all-time favourite books too!)



John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk.

There are many joys in this masterful novel but one of the best has to be the luxurious, mouthwatering descriptions of 17th century cooking. Beginning in the reign of Charles I and running through the Civil Wars, Interregnum and into the Restoration, the political upheaval provides an influential backdrop for the story of John Sandall, a young runaway looking for sanctuary after the untimely death of his mother. He finds it in the kitchens of Buckland Manor, where his talent for cooking thrusts him into the path of aristocratic love interest Lucretia. I loved the way that Norfolk deftly mixes meticulous research with myth and invented history to create a totally believable story with a sense of otherworldliness. It captures the contradictions of the age in an unequal, changing society, from the sumptuous banquets of the rich to the horrific poverty and struggle caused by the wars. And it’s a great love story too. A beautiful read.

(Kate: this sounds wonderful - I must pick this one up!)

If you enjoyed this list you may also enjoy my BEST BOOKS SET DURING THE TIME OF CHARLES II

Please leave a comment - i love to know what you think!

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