Accuracy. All I ask for in historical fiction is historical accuracy.
Ok that is not all I ask for. Style. Believable, human characters that aren’t caricatures. Good dialogue.
But I do want accuracy too.
Even if it states the novel is a fictionalised account and the author is taking liberties with people and events, there still has to be accuracy.
Or even believability. One character lives in the country and has an extensive vegetable plot (of which we got a bit of a purple prose description). But she nearly starves in winter and has to burn her furniture for fire wood! She hides in the forest but can’t collect wood? Her sister hides food in the basement of the barn but she can’t get it? A country woman who doesn’t make tonnes of preserves or lays down root vegetables? (My mother was a child in rural Germany in the war. I have tried to encourage her to write a blog on her memories. It would be an antidote to this drivel.)
“No antibiotics for her daughter” the character bemoans. But during WWII antibiotics were limited to military. GPs didn’t prescribe them to the public. I can’t believe they were available in a small rural village in France. It may be a small detail but lots of small details such as these accumulate.
It is up there with the shot down British airman walking around Paris. OK, the Allies did bomb Paris, largely the industrial areas but if a plane had been downed in Paris it would have been noticed and an airman in full kit wouldn’t have been able to walk around Paris, let alone hide under a bush by the side of the street opposite German soldiers sitting in a cafe. And, if the bomber was on the way to Germany, the flight paths wouldn’t have been over Paris. Has the author looked at a map of Europe?
So no accuracy then!
What about style?
Well if you like similes, you’ll be right. The following are all from a few pages:
- roses tumbled like laughter along the ancient stone wall
- The [attic] stairs unfold from the ceiling like a gentleman extending his hand.
- A tall thin woman with a nose like a water spigot
- Father dropped off his daughter like soiled laundry
The best account of this novel comes from a Goodreads reviewer.
And when you think the sudden dropping in of historical facts couldn’t get worse you have this, coming after the character has been tortured and imprisoned by the Gestapo, seen her father shot by the SS, herded on a cattle train with other women and children, transported without water and marched into a “prison camp” she suddenly remembers.
A woman who was in the resistance, who helped Allied airmen escape! She didn’t “remember” this before? She didn’t think of it? Or know it?
I get it. The author is writing for an audience who probably knows nothing of WWII but why present the info so stupidly?
Yes, I learnt some interesting things about Vichie France, the Resistance, Allied bombings of France, the lack of preparation of the French government for German invasion. But more because I googled Vichie France than from the novel. Of course, that’s a positive that the novel has provoked some further reading and that I learnt things. I always like learning new things.
As it turns out, the author probably used Wikipedia too. It certainly reads like she did.
Look, it’s not as bad as all that. Just after All the Light We Cannot See, I just wanted this book to be better. And if you don’t know much or anything about WWII, it would be an exciting tale.
The ending is very emotional. I teared up. So the novel must have done something to affect me so, and not in a manipulative manner.
I also think part of the problem was the manner in which I read it – an electronic version on my iPhone. Not pleasant on the eyes and not easy to skim if you feel like skipping along.
I would be interested if some of my blogging friends who are readers would give this a go and see alternate views. The book’s a best seller, some people have said its their favourite read of the year and it is being made into a movie.
Maybe I’m just a literary snob!
Edited to add: here’s a interesting read: From the Daily Mail. I wonder if this was Hannah’s inspiration. I might investigate this book.