Bookish Chat About: Fictionalised Non-Fiction

I tried to think of a snappy title for this particular post but my brain failed me.  What I’m going to talk about is those books where an author has written a fictionlised account either of a real persons life or a real life event.  They may know some details but not all about the person/event but they have imagined the thoughts and feelings of those involved and weaved a story around the bones of the facts.

I didn’t even really know this was a ‘thing’ until I read some absolutely superb books written in this vein last year which blew my mind.

I think that an author must have massive balls to take what they know about someone and dare to imagine the thoughts, feelings, conversations, events that may or may not have actually happened.  I greatly admire this skill, and it is a skill in my humble opinion, to presume how someone may have felt all in the name of fiction.

Now onto the books…..

As I said, I read some corking fictionalised ‘real life’ last year which piqued my interest and got my juices flowing.

First up was the amazing Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg Jephcott (Hutchinson).  

This is a fictionalised account of Truman Capote and the bevy of rich and powerful beauties he chose to surround himself with.  It charts his demise into writers block and his frustration at not being able to produce another acclaimed piece of literary work.  Which in turn lead to him writing a scandalous piece on the secret lives of the ‘Swans’, desperate for material, and his ultimate freezing out from the group.  This book was one of my favourites of 2018, chock full of glamour, betrayal, opulence and secrets.  My review of the book is here.

Next up was the sublime Little by Edward Carey (Gallic), which also appeared on my best books of 2018 list. 

It tells the story of a young Madame Tussauds, or as she is known in the book, Marie or ‘Little’.  This is an imagining of her early childhood and girlhood in France, learning the trade of making moulds of figureheads, criminals and noteworthy folk.  It is grim, gritty and eye opening all with an innate charm.  Marie is bold, brave and gutsy.  I adored this book and I don’t think I read any negative reviews.  My review is here.

I also read and loved See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Tinder Press), which tells the story behind the alleged crimes of Lizzie Borden who was purported to have  took an axe to her father and step mother back in the 1800’s. Lizzie was tried and acquitted of the murders which caused quite a stir but this story leaves you questioning what did actually happen that day.  A very compelling (if gruesome!) tale.

Larchfield by Polly Clark (Riverrun) is another story with elements of a real life person woven in.  In this case it is poet W H Auden.  The protagonist Dora, is a newly married and pregnant woman who has just moved to Helensburgh in Scotland.  When small village life becomes very intense Dora finds solace in her connection to W H Auden, also a prior resident of Helensburgh. My review is here.

Lastly we have Eleanor Anstruther’s A Perfect Explanation (Salt).  

This is the story  of the 8th Duke of Argyll’s granddaughter selling her own child for the princely sum of £500.  The authour Eleanor Anstruther has a close family  connection to this particular story as the child that was sold was her grandfather.  She had access to his records and documents which helped her build a picture of the story.  I absolutely loved this book and my review is here.

Moving on now  to books I have lined up that are fictionlised non-fiction…..(have I made that a thing yet?).

First up we have Graceland by Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus).  

I recently read and loved Bethan’s book My Policeman and have also read a short story of hers which appears in the short story collection A Short Affair.  Graceland tells the story of a young Elvis, and focusses in particular on his relationship with his devoted mother.  I have this out from the library at the moment and I am really enjoying it.  I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but I don’t think you need to be to enjoy this book.

Then we have a stonker of a book with a beautiful cover….Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (4th Estate).

I have a beautiful short story collection by JCO called Night-Gaunts (and when I say ‘beautiful’ I mean cover wise, not content wise!) which I am slowly making my way through and really enjoying her writing style.  Blonde tells the story of Marilyn Monroe (obvs) or more importantly the woman who started life as little Norma Jeane Baker.  This epic (400+ pages) book, takes us right from Norma Jeane’s childhood through to the woman and icon we all know her to be.  I do love Mazza and am looking forward to this one.  As it’s a huge doorstop of a book I’m going to have to plan my time wisely, but i’m hoping to maybe read it this summer.

Last up on my TBR is Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson (Duckworth).  

This tells the story of artist Stanley Spencer and his family.  When Elsie Munday takes up the role of housekeeper for the Spencer’s, she becomes entwined in their lives and with Stanley particularly.  I am going to be involved in the blog tour for this one in May and am already intrigued having not known anything about Stanley Spencer before now.  I’m looking forward to getting to this one.

So there we have it!

If you have any other suggestions of fictionlised non-fiction I would be all ears. If you’ve not read any of the above then please do check them out and let me know your thoughts.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx



18 thoughts on “Bookish Chat About: Fictionalised Non-Fiction

  1. Little’s wonderful, isn’t it. You might like Jill Dawson’s novels most of which used real life characters as jumping off points. My favourite of hers is The Crime Writer which is all about Patricia Highsmith, an eccentric to put it mildly.


  2. This is such an awesome post. I added Swan Song to my TBR! See What I Have Done was so dark and had a sing-song style sometimes… was quite tense to read! Thanks for the recs, I am also interested now on Blondie, and I’d love to see what you think of it!


  3. I love a bit of faction, as I call it, although I sometimes feel like authors are constrained by the need to stay truthful to the facts. I’ve just read Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan which is about C.S. Lewis and his wife.


  4. I really enjoy fictionalised biography too. Hope you like Graceland. I loved it, but am both a fan of Bethan and Elvis, but you don’t need to be an Elvis fan to enjoy it. I’ve heard so much about Little, I must get a copy to read.


  5. May I recommend adding Burial Rites by Hannah Kent to your list. It tells the story of the last woman sentenced to death in Iceland and is beautifully written. It really pulled me in.


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