Thursday, March 15, 2012
LAUREN WILLIG'S GARDEN OF INTRIGUE
DEBORAH CROMBIE: As we are still feeling historical (or perhaps hysterical) this week, the wonderful Lauren Willig joins us with a few thoughts about why we like history mysteries, and talks about her new book, THE GARDEN INTRIGUE.
I've just discovered Lauren's books, I'm happy to say, (although sorry not to have done so sooner) when I was signing last month at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale and Barbara Peters, goddess of bookstores, put THE ORCHID AFFAIR in my hand and said, "Here. Read this. You'll love it." Barbara's recommendations cannot be ignored and this was no exception.
And so I was hooked. Napoleonic Paris. Spies. Romance. And knee breeches. All bracketed very cleverly by an ongoing contemporary story that ties the books in the series together--and now I have a new book to look forward to as well as the earlier books in the series!
Lauren has kindly offered to send a copy of THE GARDEN INTRIGUE to one of our lucky commenters, and I'll announce the winner in tomorrow's post.
Oh, and one more thing. Lauren looks much prettier in a tiara than Brad Parks (no offense, Brad:-)) And now, here's Lauren!
LAUREN WILLIG: I heard that there was some discussion over here about literary salons and things historical, so, inspired by Brad’s appearance last week, I couldn’t resist donning my best tiara and barging over—because, really, wearing tiaras and talking about history are two of my very favorite things. It’s what got me into this job. (The history, not the tiaras. Although getting to wear a tiara to work is always a perk.)
To paraphrase a completely inappropriate source, the past had style; it had flair. Fans, coaches, gilded ballrooms, clever turns of phrase, knee breeches… all these are catnip to me. I’ve always preferred court intrigue to electoral politics. The more mistresses involved, the better. (Charles II, I’m looking at you.) For those of us who have always felt that we might have been born in the wrong era, historical fiction is the best way of rectifying that. We get all the glamor and intrigue of an earlier era without the inconveniences of lack of contact lenses, toothpaste, and flush toilets. Until they invent a proper time machine, historical fiction is the best thing we’ve got going (without any of those pesky worries about throwing off the time space continuum and all that sort of thing.)
In historical fiction, we get to hobnob with history’s most interesting characters. It’s the best possible sort of VIP room, and a VIP room to which anyone with a library card is invited. In previous books, I’ve gotten to hang out with the ruler of Hyderabad, Lord Wellesley, George III (during one of his mad phases), and even Jane Austen. In my latest book, The Garden Intrigue, my heroine, Emma, knows everyone who is anyone in Napoleonic Paris. She’s best friends with Napoleon’s stepdaughter, collaborating on a project with Robert Fulton (yes, the guy who invented the steamboat!), and a frequent visitor at Josephine Bonaparte’s country house, Malmaison. Emma’s relationships mean that we get to see the Bonapartes at home, in all their squabbling glory. It’s like gossiping about old friends—or frenemies.
I also believe that historical fiction serves other, deeper purposes. It provides us with a safe space, a happy never-never land in which we can deal with troubling issues in a non-threatening way. Like fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction has the capacity to provide a laboratory for the working out of real world problems. I’ve always been fascinated by the way historical fiction tends to mirror the preoccupations of our own age. I don’t think it’s any accident, as the disparity between rich and poor rises, that we’ve seen a corresponding interest in books set in the Gilded Age. Likewise, I’ve long wondered whether the rise in popularity of Jane Austen and everything Austen-related in the past decade has had something to do with the decay of courtship rituals in modern society. As we find ourselves in a world that seems romantically unsettled, it provides comfort to imagine a society in which courtship was played by the rules. Historical fiction provides both a cautionary tale and a corrective, a mirror for our current concerns.
Along those lines, someone made an interesting point on a panel I was on at the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend (for which I would provide an attribution if I could remember who it was. Oh, well.). In historical crime fiction, we have no DNA samples. There are no lab guys in white coats coming to provide an anodyne scientific solution to the crime. Instead, historical crime fiction, because of the lack of all those high tech doodads, is forced to rely upon analysis of characters, the whys and wherefores—a why-dunnit, as much as a who-dunnit—to solve the crime. In an age of electronics, it’s sometimes useful to back away from all the devices beeping and ringing around us and take a good, hard look at people instead.
It doesn’t hurt if some of those people happen to be wearing knee breeches.
Which is your favorite historical era?