If I Gave the Award

I’ve now reviewed all the shortlisted books for the 2021 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, so it’s time for my feature where I decide whether the judges got it right. In this case, I can’t begin with the book I disliked most, because I liked all of them. In fact, that’s the difficulty, to choose between these worthy candidates.

I very recently reviewed The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte, about the German occupation of Tolstoy’s estate during World War II. I enjoyed this novel but didn’t like the letters that skipped ahead of the plot and felt the novel was somehow slight.

I also enjoyed The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, which explored the ways that gender influenced the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and looked at the women who helped create the dictionary. I found the novel touching and interesting, although a few of the plot points were predictable.

The freshest book in my memory of is A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville. I found this novel about how a woman learns how to work within a difficult marriage and helps found the sheep industry in Australia vivid and deeply interesting. Of course, the husband gets all the credit.

One of my favorite writers is Maggie O’Farrell. Her novel Hamnet is about the death of William Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s son and its influence on the writing of Hamlet. I found it to be deft and sensitive, although at first I wasn’t comfortable with how much O’Farrell was making up about Hathaway.

But speaking of favorite authors, along with many people, I was waiting for the last entry in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. That book, The Mirror and the Light, follows Cromwell’s life as he serves Henry VIII and tries to keep him from his worst excesses. It begins with the beheading of Anne Boleyn and of course, ends with his own death. It had me in tears, which is my best gauge of how much I enjoy a book. This novel was the winner of the award for 2021, and I think the judges got it right.

8 thoughts on “If I Gave the Award

  1. Helen May 11, 2022 / 2:21 pm

    I still have most of these to read, but it’s good to know that you liked all of them. I started to read The Mirror and the Light when it was first published but then the pandemic started and I got distracted. I’m hoping to try it again soon!

  2. FictionFan May 12, 2022 / 5:52 pm

    A bonus to have enjoyed them all! I really must read The Mirror and the Light. I planned to re-read the first two via audiobook first, but sadly they bored me to tears in that format so I gave up. I loved them on paper though.

    • whatmeread May 12, 2022 / 8:03 pm

      Yes, I thought they were wonderful. I can’t do audiobook very often.

  3. thecontentreader May 19, 2022 / 8:11 am

    I was not aware of this prize although I love Historic fiction. Have to look for earlier shortlists. I have read the two first of Mantel’s book which I found excellent. Looking forward to the third. I also loved Hamnet and O’Farrell is also one of my favourite authors.

    • whatmeread May 19, 2022 / 10:17 am

      I wasn’t aware of it, either, until I noticed the postings of Helen of She Reads Novels, who is doing the same project.

  4. Naomi May 19, 2022 / 11:50 am

    I always like these posts. And it’s unusual for you to have liked them all so much, isn’t it?
    I haven’t read any of them yet, but you make them all sound good!

    • whatmeread May 19, 2022 / 5:48 pm

      Yes, it is! I guess I have accomplished my mission.

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