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April 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Trend Alert
This form of haunted and otherworldly historical fiction rises and falls in popularity over time. We are currently experiencing a dazzling upsurge, perhaps in response to an increasingly surreal world.
The Accursed. By Joyce Carol Oates. 2013. Ecco, $27.99 (9780062231703).
In this extravagantly imaginative, darkly humorous, and blistering fusion of historical fact, supernatural mystery, and devilish social commentary—all spiraling out from a lynching—Oates matches such historical figures as Woodrow Wilson, Mark Twain, and Jack London with invented human characters as well as ghosts, vampires, and demons.
Beloved. By Toni Morrison. 1987. Vintage, $16 (9781400033416).
In Morrison’s masterpiece, the horrors of America’s Civil War era are rendered universally and endlessly tragic as Sethe escapes slavery and flees to the free state of Ohio only to remain in chains psychically as the ghost of her baby haunts her.
Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes. By William Kennedy. 2011. Penguin, $16 (9780143122043).
Kennedy’s celebrated Albany Cycle, which includes Ironweed (1983) and Roscoe (2002), blends history with strands of magic realism and ghostly interludes. In this enrapturing tale of bloody quests for justice and equality, and the gamble of love, Quinn, an American reporter, marries Cuban revolutionary Renata in her homeland, after which they end up in Albany in 1968, when racial tension is on the boil.
The Daylight Gate. By Jeanette Winterson. 2013. Grove, $24 (9780802121639).
The always provocative and innovative Winterson presents an eviscerating variation on the epochal 1612 English witch trials in haunted Lancaster, a Catholic stronghold under James I. Like a witch over a cauldron, she mixes historical figures (including William Shakespeare) with imagined characters, occult forces, and diabolical events as she freshly dramatizes this brutal religious persecution of women and children.
The Enchantress of Florence. By Salman Rushdie. 2008. Random, $17 (9780679640516).
Rushdie transmutes a wealth of facts about the Mogul Empire and Akbar the Great and the great city of Florence during the High Renaissance, home of Niccolò Machiavelli, while conjuring a beautiful woman in command of magical forces in this resplendent and clever historically grounded fable about the dynamics and paradoxes of power.
The Haunting of L. By Howard Norman. 2002. Picador, $14 (9780312421663).
Norman’s atmospheric novels evoke to fine effect Canada’s mysterious, wintry landscape, perhaps none more mesmerizingly than this tale of photography-assistant Peter Duvett, who ends up in the wilds of Manitoba in 1926, where his revolver-waving employer photographs train wrecks and plane crashes, while his wife obsesses over “spirit photographs” that, purportedly, capture the souls of the dead.
Jerusalem. By Alan Moore. 2016. Norton/Liveright, paper, $35 (9781631492433).
Comics icon Moore turns in a sprawling, million-word saga blending fantasy and historical fiction set roughly in the Northampton, England, neighborhood in which he grew up. Reaching across millennia, this mega-tale features a broad spectrum of colorful characters, both human and spectral, as well as a daring variety of narrative styles and fantastical themes.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. By Susanna Clarke. 2004. Bloomsbury, $18 (9781620409909).
History and fantasy form a dynamic partnership in this avidly detailed, Harry Potter–esque novel set in 1808 England, during Napoleon’s assault, which prompts a scholarly Yorkshire magician, Mr. Norrell, along with his more alluring apprentice, Jonathan Strange, to marshal their special powers to combat the enemy.
Lincoln in the Bardo. By George Saunders. 2017. Random, $28 (9780812995343).
Though Saunders incorporates intriguing factual detail about the circumstances surrounding President Abraham Lincoln’s grief over the loss of his young son, Willie, his sensitive novel blossoms into an audaciously imagined tale of cemetery spirits and the afterlife.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things. By Alice Hoffman. 2014. Scribner, $27.99 (9781451693560).
Hoffman breathes fiery life into an enrapturing historical-fiction and fairy-tale mash-up centered on the Coney Island Museum of Extraordinary Things, where the secretive Professor Sardie displays “living wonders,” including his web-fingered “Mermaid” daughter, Coralie, whose life intersects with a Jewish immigrant photographer, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a mystic, and a distinguished wolf man as Hoffman unveils both horror and magic in a metropolis of lies, yearning, and metamorphosis.
The Underground Railroad. By Colson Whitehead. 2016. Doubleday, $26.95 (9780385537032).
Whitehead’s literal Underground Railroad delivers runaway slave Cora to various states enacting different forms of racial oppression in a novel that combines thoughtfully selected and vividly described historical detail with what the author has described as “allegorical flourishes.”
Unspeakable Things. By Kathleen Spivack. 2016. Knopf, $25.95 (9780385353960).
In her macabre fairy tale of monstrous fascinations, horrific exploitations, and desperate strategies of survival, Spivack portrays Jewish refugees from Nazi Austria, including Herbert, a man of secrets; his strangely bewitching cousin, tiny Anna, called the Rat for her punishing deformity; the courageous, bizarrely afflicted Tolstoi String Quartet; the notorious faith-healer Rasputin; and an evil doctor intent on master-race genetic engineering.
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