I’m in the middle of The Queen’s Confession, a novel about Marie Antoinette that’s narrated in the first person by the queen, as the title indicates. It’s by Victoria Holt, who of course is also Jean Plaidy, who is also Philippa Carr. Most of the Holt and Carr books fall under the category of romantic suspense, as far as I can tell, which isn’t my thing at all, but The Queen’s Confession is mainstream historical fiction, more like Jean Plaidy’s novels. So far, it’s very good, with much more in-depth characterization than Carolly Erickson used in her recent Marie Antoinette novel, The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette. I found the latter readable but lacking in depth, which surprised me because I enjoyed Erickson’s biography of the queen, To the Scaffold.
I’ll post more on the Holt book when I’ve finished it, but this seemed a good time to note that as readers of this blog may have figured out by now, when I read historical fiction, I’m more likely to pick up something that’s old or out-of-print than current fiction. This is mainly because I choose historical fiction based on my own idiosyncratic criteria: generally, it has to be about historical figures I’m interested in, these figures have to play a major part in the novel, and it has to be “straight” historical fiction rather than historical romance, though I’ve been known to read the latter if the historical element is sufficiently strong and the main characters more than beautiful puppets. If a novel meets those criteria, I’m likely to read it, though I have my limits. If Eleanor of Aquitaine sounds like Erica Jong, that’s a deal-breaker for me.
There are a number of current writers who meet my criteria, which I emphasize are purely a matter of personal taste. Unfortunately, they can write only so fast, so, as I said before, I find myself gravitating toward older books, many of which are no longer available except as used books or in public libraries. This is a shame, because although some of these older books are written in a mannered style that hasn’t aged well, many of them, like the novels of Margaret Campbell Barnes, are as good as anything being written today, and in some cases better. Perhaps publishers will recognize this, as they have in the case of some of Jean Plaidy’s books, and begin reissuing them.