The publication of Hilary Mantel’s new book, Bringing Up the Bodies, sequel to Wolf Hall, has sparked a resurgent interest in historical fiction. One of the titles that she has frequently recommended is The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan. The Year of the French is about the Irish Rebellion of 1798 (Éirí Amach 1798) when a band of Irish patriots, with a company of French Republican troops, land in County Mayo in western Ireland, defeat the English at Castlebar, set up the short lived Republic of Connaught, and then eventually lose at the battle of Ballinamuck.
Mantel has been teaching a class of writing historical fiction as part of the masterclass series put on by the Royal Society of Literature; in it she recommends The Year of the French as an “involving story of the 1798 Irish rebellion: a heavyweight traditional novel, and a model of how to pinpoint individual lives against a huge canvas.” She also included it it as one of her “5 Favorite Historical Fictions” in a Daily Beast article. In fact, the connection between Mantel’s novels, chronicling the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII, and The Year of the French was noted by Stephen Greenblatt in his review of Wolf Hall in The New York Review of Books. All this to say if you like historical fiction and the work of Hilary Mantel, you’ll most likely enjoy The Year of the French.