20 August, 2020

With almost 2000 pages spread across the three Wolf Hall books, this year new fans of Hilary Mantel have had plenty to keep them engaged for quite some time. But what happens after you turn the last page? We’ve put together a list of books you may want to read next.

Historical literary fiction

Now that you know the who’s who of the Tudor court, maybe you’d like to see another author’s take on their interactions or learn more about the lesser known players? Alternatively, if you appreciate the literary writing style and period focus, you may want to explore other similar works.

The Fifth Queen trilogy by Ford Madox Ford

Ford’s portrayal of Katherine Howard stands the test of time, remaining a classic since the first volume’s publication in 1906. Although the historical accuracy is questionable, the fictionalised story is captivating. One reviewer describes it as, “An atmospheric, dark, compelling piece of fiction told in shadows… It’s a tragic, deeply frightening story of a dark, dark time in history. The plotting is like a le Carre spy novel, with characters and events turning, by chance, on a knife edge. The dialogue is wonderful, the narrative claustrophobic. The whole thing feels lit by shifting candlelight in dark rooms and corridors.”

A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth Mac Donald

Cross the seas and fall back another two hundred years in time with Mac Donald’s debut novel. This story again revolves around a battle between church and state, with a young Scottish monk leading the charge. As he sets off to translate the works of Aristotle, he travels around Italy and Spain visiting the earliest translation schools. 

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Eco stands as one of Italy’s preeminent literary giants and The Name of the Rose is one of his most famous works. Set in a slightly later time period to Mac Donald’s book, Eco’s tale is one of mystery, with Brother William of Baskerville investigating a murder at a wealthy Italian monastery. The book has been reproduced as both a movie and TV series, but as almost always, the original written work is the best.

Historical commercial fiction

Phillipa Gregory and Anne O’Brien

If you’re looking for a light read, you cannot go wrong with Phillipa Gregory and Anne O’Brien. These two English writers have produced a number of historical fiction works, regularly topping the Sunday Times charts for fiction and winning awards. Fair warning, although the stories will hold your attention, the authors play fast and loose with historical accuracy. 

As a starting point, you may want to pick up a copy of Gregory’s book The Other Boleyn Girl. You likely know most of the story of Anne, but what about her lesser-known sister Mary? 

Booker Prize winners

The first two books in the Wolf Hall series achieved recognition by winning the Booker Prize for fiction. This prize is the highest honour for works written in English, awarded to what the judges decide is the best book of the year. Winning, or even making the long or short list, can transform a writer’s career, and it is rare that a writer wins more than once. 

The Booker Prize also has an international counterpart, recognising the best work translated into English in a given year. 

You can work your way through the list, starting with the first award in 1969 up to the most recent winners in 2019. Another option would be to work your way through the long list of works from the years in which Mantel was recognised (2009 and 2012). It could be interesting to see if your preferences align with those of the judges, given your shared high opinion of Mantel. 

If that seems daunting, you may want to start with some of the most famous winners, such as The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro or The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Even if you read them while pursuing your GCSEs or A levels, revisiting them as an adult can provide you with a fresh angle for appreciating the genius within the stories. 

Need more Historical Fiction suggestions? Check out our Travelling in Time category.