Emma Donoghue's favourite historical novels

Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of The Pull of the Stars, choses what, in her opinion, are the very best historical novels.

Emma Donoghue, the bestselling author of Room, may be best-known for a novel set in the present day but she's no stranger to historical fiction, having written an number of novels inspired by real historical events, such as Frog Music, SlammerkinThe Sealed Letter, and The Pull of the StarsHere, she shares some of her favourite historical fiction novels.

Discover the best historical fiction of all time.


by Sarah Waters

Book cover for Affinity

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.

Forever Amber

by Kathleen Winsor

Book cover for Forever Amber

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.

Morality Play

by Barry Unsworth

Book cover for Morality Play

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.

A Catch of Consequence

by Diana Norman

Book cover for A Catch of Consequence

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.

The Crimson Petal and The White

by Michel Faber

Book cover for The Crimson Petal and The White

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.

The Pull of the Stars

Book cover for The Pull of the Stars

As war and disease ravage Ireland, Nurse Julia Power works in a tiny ward in an understaffed hospital, where expectant mothers struck by an unfamilar 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.