I love lists. Newspapers also love lists, because they elevate their sites' hit counts. Take, for example, this list of "The 10 Best Historical Novels," which is the sort of thing guaranteed to make someone like yours truly prick up their ears (focus their eyes?). It may have been designed to be deliberately irritating. Or, alternately, it merely exemplifies the inherent bizarreness of any such list--only ten novels? From the entire history of the historical novel? Across the globe? Aside from a brief foray into Russia for War and Peace (which, if one has to make this kind of list, belongs there) and Italy for The Leopard (which probably also qualifies), the list sticks to British, Irish, and American novels. Which are, ahem, all in print, and possibly available from the Guardian's online bookshop. (I winced at the sight of Wolf Hall, which is a fine novel, but seems to be in here primarily for promotional purposes.) Except for W&P and The Leopard, any one of these novels could easily be swapped for something else, and quite possibly something better: Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), Stendahl's Le Rouge et Le Noir, Shusako Endo's Silence or The Samurai...I could go on (but won't). Moreover, these novels all fit relatively neatly into the traditional paradigm of historical novels set fully in the past, seeking to avoid all but "necessary anachronism": ergo, no Charles Johnson's Middle Passage, no A. S. Byatt's Possession, no James Robertson's The Fanatic, to give three totally random examples. In other words, this list seems to assume a definition of "the historical novel" that it never really states, even though "the historical novel" is an exceptionally fluid category. Magical realist historical fiction (e.g., Gabriel Garcia Marquez...)? Science fiction/fantasy historical fiction (e.g., Octavia Butler...)? Gothic historical fiction (e.g., Sir Walter Scott, whose absence from this list is pretty eye-popping...)?
But perhaps the list will sell some good books, so there's that.