Top 10: fiction books in which real people appear

David Bowie

From walk-on part to protagonist, ten great examples of real-life people in fiction.

Marilyn Monroe
  1. Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates. Senator Teddy Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick affair
  2. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. Cameo role for Gore Vidal, writer
  3. Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell. Walk on parts for David Bowie, John Lennon and more.
  4. Hell Unearthed (A Modern Adaptation of Dante’s Inferno) by Hilary MacElwaine. David Bowie (again), Myra Hindley and more
  5. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. Marilyn Monroe, actor
  6. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. Ned Kelly, outlaw
  7. The Fall River Axe Murders by Angela Carter. Lizzie Borden, murderer
  8. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Abraham Lincoln, US president
  9. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Cardinal Richelieu, politician-cleric
  10. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Grace Marks, murderer…or was she?
Ned Kelly

Bubbling under

  1. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Johannes Vermeer, artist
  2. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Bob Marley, musician
  3. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. Bit parts for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, fuhrer and mistress
  4. Briefly, a Delicious Life by Nell Stevens. George Sand and Frederick Chopin, author and musician
  5. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. Hilary Clinton, politician

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Ian Wilson · 05/14/2023 at 7:33 pm

I once read an amusing sequel to the Lizzie Borden story, though it might be apocryphal.

In later life she hired a handyman to do some work in her house. He needed to demolish a partition and told her he needed to return home to fetch appropriate tools, whereupon she said “there’s no need, I’ll bring my hatchet.”

When she returned the handyman had vanished. Looking out of her window she saw him fleeing as fast as he could run. Evidently her mention of bringing a hatchet had frightened him out of his wits.

    Amanda Read · 05/15/2023 at 8:38 am

    Thanks for sharing the story, Ian. I can well believe it!

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