I am not normally drawn to historical fiction. (And I’m never sure I understand the genre. Isn’t everything a kind of historical fiction?) But Unsworth got my attention years ago with the stunning Morality Play and the remarkable Sacred Hunger. With the exception of Losing Nelson, I’ve loved all of his work. Like J.J. Norwich says on the cover of my edition, “I plunged in and was instantly. . . transported.” Unsworth has clearly done his homework here (as he always does), but he always makes sure the historical details serve the story. He’s created a remarkable character here in Thurstan. While I can’t say that I could give you an accurate recounting of all of the palace politics, I got the main points – that Thurstan has a kind of naive idealism that, in the end, causes him to suffer. But I liked his idealism and his vision of his King, so I kept hoping he was right. I only figured out the problem a few pages before he did, so I was clearly with him.
Interestingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about how authors use coincidences in their work, particularly when they have characters run into each other in sometimes unlikely places. Unsworth does something new with that here which I enjoyed at the same time as I said to myself, “I should have seen that coming.”
Try an Unsworth – this one or one of the others I mentioned. I wish he got more attention.