Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky, friends since graduate school, didn’t plan to write a book. Their project, set in 1760s Boston, was supposed to be a sketch, a playful spoof of two genres: the picaresque, with its rogue hero exposing the hypocrisy around him, and the sentimental epistolary narrative—in this instance, a series of letters from a young “fallen” woman to a friend. Lepore would write a chapter as Stewart Jameson, a portrait painter in exile; then Kamensky would pick up the story in a letter from Miss Fanny Easton. They planned to present the finished product as a gift to their mentor, John Demos, the historian under whom both studied at Yale.
Historians, Ralph Ellison once said, are "responsible liars," but at least they're responsible. Historical novelists, on the other hand, don't let facts get in the way of a good story. But in "Blindspot," to be published next week, two academic historians and long-time friends, Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore, have painted a portrait of pre-Revolutionary Boston that is true to the spirit of the time while inventing a couple of romantic, witty, down-on-their-luck, larger-than-life characters struggling to stay afloat in a tumultuous time. Ms. Kamensky is the chairwoman of Brandeis University's history department; Ms. Lepore is chairwoman of the History and Literature Program at Harvard University and a contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Both have written several works of nonfiction; this is their first novel.
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Blindspot is a twenty-first century novel in eighteenth-century garb. It plays with the conventions of eighteenth-century novels, newspapers, portraits, and histories. Novels look for a different kind of truth than history books, and while Blindspot is fiction, it relies on our work as historians, on every page. Much that happens in the novel is based on actual events and adapted from archival evidence chronicling both ordinary life and extraordinary transformations. The American Revolution. The Enlightenment. The eighteenth century’s bawdiness, its anticlericalism, its obsessions with wit and sham and rank and pleasure. A few of Blindspot’s characters were inspired by real people; many of its buildings are based on buildings that still stand; its portraits resemble paintings that now hang on the walls of American museums. A sizable number of very short passages in the text are taken nearly verbatim from eighteenth-century letters, newspapers, account books, diaries, sermons, novels, poems, riddles, philosophical treatises, and legal records. We quoted, we borrowed, we took liberties. But we also kept faith with the past. --Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore