A friend was asking me how many pages of my book my seemingly endless research will take up. It won’t take up too much. Maybe ten to fifteen pages total. But I need them to be accurate. I have a bone with BS in books. I get we’re working with fiction here, but there’s no reason to insult reality or the reader while we’re at it.
I just read a fun book set in medieval England. The author clearly knew the period rather well. My quibbles with details were less about the facts, than about the choices.
A) The author chose to paint the Church with a wide, unforgiving brush. No room was given at all to honest clerics–to their very possibility. None.
B) The author chose to depict a Jew burnt at the stake in punishment for bringing about the plague–a terrible and terrifying reality for entire communities of Jews in medieval Europe, despite their innocence–but then made the oddest decision about how to depict the victim. The Jew was depicted as–get this–a Christian.
WTF? This Jew was basically a Jew for Jesus, without the title. Why? I can’t think why. Or rather, I can’t think that it’s accurate to the Jews of this period. So the author made another choice. Who knows what the reason was.
Does the author doubt the reader will sympathize with a Jew, an “other”? Did the author simply struggle for a way to include a subplot featuring a Jew as well as a subplot allowing her to reveal that reading (Christian) scripture was forbidden to layfolk during this period, and so she meshed both stories into one? If the former, it’s an insult to readership and diminishes the value of the historical accuracy the book otherwise edges toward. If the latter, uh, that’s just wrong. It’s two separate issues affecting different peoples.
Add to this bundle the fact that the heroine is also an accomplished markswoman, rider and swimmer, and the story veers just off the set, stumbling off stage as I reel, making up my mind whether the pages are turning fast enough for me to stick with the ride. That’s not what one wants: disrupting internal credibility such that the reader breaks to make a conscious choice–not to believe, but to enjoy despite not believing at all. To enjoy while seeing tricks played before their eyes.
I did choose to ride on, as it happened. But the set had crumbled. Maybe that’s the issue. The center did not hold. Things fell apart as the centripetal force crumbled. Credibility was lost in the malaise.
There’s fiction, and then there’s license. The twain are not the same. A book ought not to purport history to be its set when it’s only its gloss.
Used to be, I avoided all historical fiction. I didn’t want to absorb a sense of a time, how things went down, etc, from a novel, and then in my ignorance, assume it accurate. Now I try read quality fiction almost regardless of genre, and only read historical fiction when it’s fearlessly self-described as fantasy. Sometimes I wonder at myself, choosing to write a book which touches on history, when I have that strong bias.
Fiction is one thing, but glaring misdirection or toying with facts–nope. Toy with mysteries, with the unknown. Ponder the significance of known and unknown occurences–sure. Make up stories that could fit, or alternate realities that you call by their honest names–yes. But to place a novel in a period or in a location and then to violate its truths– that’s just not cool. It’s a lazy choice, even if the book is still an enjoyable read.
What are your thoughts about the same, in books you’ve read or even are writing?