Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Best Use of a Real Person in Fiction

I've been thinking about DAUGHTER OF TIME with the discovery of Richard III's bones last week. A lot of fiction has made good use of real people. And I am not talking about resurrecting Jane Austen to solve mysteries. But more using the real story/character as part of a new narrative. SHOELESS JOE (Kinsella) comes to mind. Also RAGTIME did a great job of it.

What others stand out for you.



Special Note-Maxine Clark, an early and prolific book blogger, died late last year. Her good friend, Margot Kinberg has set up a memorial blog called PETRONA REMEMBERED. I shared some thoughts with them today.

26 comments:

Deb said...

Doctorow's Homer & Langley, about the Collyer brothers, New York's hoarders extraordinaire, was very good. Having the.blind brother narrate the novel was an excellent decision: we "see" the gradual accumulation of squalor through the brother's non-visual senses.

RkR said...

I loved and ought to re-read SHOELESS JOE and RAGTIME too. I can't think of any others that I think qualify just now, but I'll work on it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Virginia Wolf in THE HOURS.

George said...

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is a novel about the life of Anne Morrow, who married Charles Lindbergh and found plenty of heart-ache. That might fit the bill.

Gerard said...

Steven Saylor's (no relation) many Rome novels. I just ran across a reference to his long novel, Roma, that reminded me of this.

seana graham said...

Denise Giardina's Saints and Villains, which was about Dietrich Bonhoeffer was very good, although she did have him take a trip through the U.S. that never happened, which made you question the whole a bit more than you want to.

And of course there is the brilliant portrait of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Did you read Mante's piece in the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS. She is amazing.
That reminds me, George. Charles is in THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA.
I have heard of the Saylor series.

seana graham said...

I did read it, but only after reading about the kerfuffle it caused. It was, as is usual with her work, precise and penetrating.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sad, she was so misrepresented.

seana graham said...

She was. We will all just have to read more of her work in solidarity.

Al Tucher said...

The Flashman books by George Macdonald Fraser focus on a fictitious main character, but Harry Flashman encounters many of the real players of the 19th century. George Armstrong Custer, Queen Victoria, Lord Raglan Queen Ravanarola of Madagascar, and many others all come to life.

pattinase (abbott) said...

New to me, Al. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, Lindbergh in THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, though he was something of a cipher.

Lord Toranaga (based on the real man) in SHOGUN, one of my all-time favorite books.

Dashiell Hammett in HAMMETT by Joe Gores.

Abe Lincoln also made an appearance - a vivid one - in the Flashman series.

(SPOILER ALERT) A more unusual one was an aged John F. Kennedy in Brendan DuBois' RESURRECTION DAY. (END ALERT)

Jeff M.

Kieran Shea said...

The Dead Circus by John Kaye. Manson. Bobby Fuller. Sinatra. Steve Martin. Springsteen, Buddy Holly, etc. etc....stunning crime novel. http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Circus-Novel-John-Kaye/dp/0802140173

Anonymous said...

Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon wrote books about Victorian England (Don't, Mr Disraeli) and Shakespeare (No Bed for Bacon) featuring all the characters you might expect...
I second the recommendation of the Flashman books above.

Erik Donald France said...

I like several Gore Vidal books, especially Burr, Lincoln and 1876. They have great details. Still chuckling that, according to Vidal, George Washington had a large posterior. (Apparently these kinds of catty details pushed Michele Bachmann into the modern Republican camp)

Cap'n Bob said...

HANK AND MUDDY, by Stephen Mertz gives us a nice look at Hank Williams and Muddy Waters as well as the milieu they inhabited. I second the motion regarding the Flashman books. My great-great uncle Cornelius Napier was featured in one of them.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..

Cap'n Bob said...

To be honest, I don't know if Corny Napier is related to me or not. But he is famous in the annals of warfare for waging a long campaign without the loss of one man.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A lot of these are new to me. But I should have remembered Burr and 1876.

Chris said...

Patti, what do you think of Richard Burton in The Beautiful Ruins?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'm only on Chapter Three so he hasn't arrived yet. Great book so far.

John said...

EINSTEIN'S DREAMS was the most imaginative use of a real person in a novel I have read. I'm not one to read fictional accounts of real people though, I'd rather read non-fiction biographies for that. I guess Doctorow was pretty good at this kind of fiction, but I've never read any of his books.

Too many mysteries are jumping on this bandwagon with the explosion of "historical mysteries" and most of the time they irritate the hell out of me. When the historical fuigures turn up they act ad if they stepped out of the 20th (or 21st) century with slang and idiomatic speech and behavior and psychology that don't match the person at all.

Naomi Johnson said...

I like Craig McDonald's use of Hemingway in his Lassiter series.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He is tops, isn't he? So much research goes into his books.

Kent Morgan said...

One few people will know about is All the Stars Came Out That Night by Kevin King. Along with many great players from major league baseball and the Negro leagues in 1934, King brings to life Henry Ford, Clarence Darrow, George Raft and Carole Lombard. I also like Hemingway in McDonald172's series and as you know, I'm a big Kinsella fan.