April 27, 2011

Fact Meets Fiction in The Report

I read THE REPORT by Jessica Francis Kane in two days, unusually quickly for me. I had some other things I was supposed to be doing during those two days, but once I began reading this book, I had to neglect everything else in order to get to the end of the story.

THE REPORT is a mystery, in a way. Early in the novel, a tragedy takes place. It's a real event that occurred during World War II: As residents in a London neighborhood entered a Tube station air raid shelter, a sudden crush of bodies led to 173 deaths. Kane learned of the incident when she came across the report by the magistrate who led the investigative inquiry. That report leaves many questions unresolved, and there's never been a complete explanation of what happened that evening, so Kane was inspired to write a work of fiction to offer some answers, as she discusses in this Beyond the Margins interview.

The resulting novel has two storylines. In one, Kane's cast of fictional characters, plus a fictionalized version of the real magistrate, get caught up in the tragedy and its immediate aftermath. In the other, several characters consider the event from a distance of thirty years. The two timelines are carefully woven together in a way that gradually exposes the secrets of the plot. Since I'm figuring out the revealing of secrets in my own novel, I appreciated reading an effective example of this.

If you like historical fiction, unusual narrative structure, and mostly just a strong, compelling story, pick up a copy of THE REPORT.

I'd like to hear about other novels that explore historical mysteries (I've read Josephine Tey's THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, a notable example), or historical fiction that focuses on a specific event (rather than simply taking place during a particular era). Any suggestions?

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Colson Whitehead pontificates on The Blessed Distraction of Technology: "I used to think that I was the only one hunched over a keyboard in soiled pajamas, rummaging through the catalogue of my failures and intermittently weeping. Now, I open Twitter and see that I am not alone." (Thanks, The Millions!)

→ A. Victoria Mixon and Roz Morris are Talking Revision: "A lot of writers don't realise how much a manuscript can change in the editing stages. How completely a first draft has to be pulled apart, twisted and tested. I think for most writers the intensive creative work happens after the first draft and when they're into revisions."


mamagotcha said...

"The Killer of Little Shepherds" was probably nonfiction, but had a fictional element in the story it was telling. It's about the case that essentially catalyzed the creation of forensic science, and I found it mesmerizing (if a bit grisly).


gardenlore said...

thanks for the recommendation. the novel i'm working on now is a historical mystery of sorts and i've been struggling with the same thing.

Anna Scott Graham said...

Anna's Book by Barbara Vine is fantastic! I'm not usually a big historical fiction buff, but this book winds several stories into one with a flourish, or so I think.

Lisa Eckstein said...

@mamagotcha: Thanks for that recommendation. I think forensic science is fascinating.

@gardenlore: I hope you like the book. Let me know what you think! And good luck with your writing.

@Anna: The description for that story sounds intriguing, and with the three generations of a family, it's right up my alley!

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