Affinity

by Sarah Waters

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It’s very hard to pick a favourite Sarah Waters . . .  but I’m going to say Affinity. It’s a claustrophobic two-hander about an 1870s prisoner and her lady visitor, and it manages to play a trick on the readers that leaves them cursing themselves for their stupidity.

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Forever Amber

by Kathleen Winsor

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This doorstopper of a bodice-ripper about restoration England was the bestselling novel in 1940s America and I devoured it in my teens. It contains the most memorable scenes of the great fire and plague that I’ve encountered.

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Morality Play

by Barry Unsworth

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The Man-Booker shortlisted Morality Play by the late, great Barry Unsworth is set in the fourteenth century and is the least fusty, most gripping take on medieval mindsets I’ve read.

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A Catch of Consequence

by Diana Norman

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Again lost to us too soon, Diana Norman’s historical novels are all wonderful but I’m going to pick A Catch of Consequence, the first of three page turners set in revolutionary France and America.

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The Crimson Petal and the White

by Michael Faber

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The novel I brought into hospital when giving birth to our first child - which managed to hold my attention that night, despite the baby beside me(!) - was Michel Faber’s weird, atmospheric The Crimson Petal and the White about a prostitute in nineteenth-century London.

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The Pull of the Stars

by Emma Donoghue

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As war and disease ravage Ireland, Nurse Julia Power works in a tiny ward in an understaffed hospital, where expectant mothers struck by an unfamiliar flu are quarantined together. Julia is assisted by two new arrivals, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney, and over the course of three days these women will change each other's lives in unexpected ways. The Pull of the Stars is a classic story of hope and survival from the bestselling author of Room.

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