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In February I included a list of award winning historical fiction with the thought of exploring what readers think made them superb examples of the craft. I didn’t get very far on this topic and thought I’d return to it today with a look at John Spurling’s The Ten Thousand Things, winner of the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction in 2015.
What’s it about? In the turbulent final years of the Yuan Dynasty (13th century China), Wang Meng is a low-level bureaucrat, employed by the government of Mongol conquerors established by the Kublai Khan. Though he wonders about his own complicity with this regime—the Mongols, after all, are invaders—he prefers not to dwell on his official duties, choosing instead to live the life of the mind and his paintings. A novel of fated meetings, grand battles, and riveting drama.
One reviewer on Goodreads writes: “Spurling’s writing is exquisite. He creates scenes with a sensitivity and attention to aesthetic detail that seems light and effortless, yet deeply moving. To read this book is to plunge into another world, to be transported, not into some dimly remembered past, but a very real and vividly imagined world that is thoroughly convincing.”
Another says: “I now feel like I’ve been to China in the 13th century.”
So clearly Spurling is a master at transporting readers in time and place.
Many readers attest to Spurling’s wonderful prose, comparing it to the beauty of the paintings his protagonist creates. Another praises the dialogue and comments that Spurling’s experience as a playwright may be the source of his excellence.
There are numerous references to the authors blending of philosophy and politics into the story. “The Ten Thousand Things is a literary masterpiece that reveals classical philosophy and art of 14th Century China.” “Any student of Chinese history will appreciate the story and the insights into the politics, art and history of that time period.”
Kirkus Reviews has this to say: “The great strength of this novel is not so much the plot but the rich detail that sets the reader in the middle of China.”
The South China Morning Post [Hong Kong’s major English newspaper] says: “Like one of Wang’s paintings, this story is a highly crafted masterpiece that cannot be enjoyed in one sitting … Even a reader who starts out with no interest in China or Chinese artists will be sure to return to this story over the years, as its truths remain timeless.”
So – superb writing, evocative time and place, timeless truths, rich details. I’ve certainly looked at enough reviews to add this one to my TBR list.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.