I recently spent a happy few days in Tudor England, reading two very different historical novels. Execution by S. J. Parris is a spy thriller cum whodunnit that weaves its way through the seedy backstreets of Elizabeth I's London and a tangle of plots and counterplots. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell imagines the life of Shakespeare and his family from when he met Agnes (Anne) Hathaway to the years following the death of his son, Hamnet.
In many ways, the two books couldn't be more different. Execution has a first person narrator and a straightforward chronological construction, whereas Hamnet uses multiple points of view and moves backwards and forwards through time. Execution moves at a fast pace; Hamnet takes its time. However, both novels wear their scholarship lightly, giving readers the small details and insights needed to conjure up the atmosphere and scene without overloading them with historical facts.
Although both novels are inspired by historical events, they could be reset in the present day. Despite telling their stories in very different ways, ultimately their themes and characters, their hopes and anxieties are timeless. They'll no doubt be as popular in 20 years' time as they are now, and that, surely, is something every writer desires.