Ancestry, A Novel


This book defies categorisation. It’s a history, it’s a novel, almost it’s a kind of archaeology, an investigation into the reality of the past and an exploration of that uncertain borderland which lies between fact and fiction. Using archive material Mawer has picked through the traces left behind by his mid-nineteenth-century ancestors to find out how they might have been and what might have happened to them. There were few artefacts – a funeral notice, a Crimean War campaign medal – handed down through the generations because these men and women possessed so little, no diaries or letters largely because they were illiterate. In fact there is nothing much to show that they were once alive beyond those traces that are common to all families: entries in registers of birth, marriage and death, census data and occasional hints in newspapers.

Yet this is no dry history. While taking care never to step outside the bounds of historical evidence, Mawer has put flesh and blood on the bare bones, employing the skills of a novelist to reconstruct long-dead ancestors and give them voice. The result is gripping and heart-breaking, imbued with the vitality of Dickensian London, the atmosphere of seafaring in the days when sail was just beginning to give way to steam, and the terror of trench warfare in the Crimea. There is love, both open and legal but also hidden and illicit. Above all there is the bloody-minded courage of the women who, as their men fell by the wayside, carried the family forward from Victorian revolution into the twentieth century.







Little, Brown UK 2022

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Simon Mawer 2008 - 2022. This website is written and maintained by the author.