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Classic reads to transport you to Europe

24th April 2017

Classic reads to transport you to Europe.

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Books set in a location offer great travel reading. Literature – modern or historical – helps us absorb atmosphere in a way that no other written word finds possible. Books help us get under the skin of a place, and see a location through an author’s eyes.

In the first of a series of themed blog posts, here are 5 classic novels or memoirs rooted firmly in Europe:

  1. As I Walked out one Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee

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In 1934, aged just 19, Laurie Lee walked out of his family home in rural Gloucestershire, carrying a rolled-up tent, a violin in a blanket, a tin of treacle biscuits and some cheese.

For the next 2 years, he walked. To the south coast of England, to London and then the length of Spain, from Vigo in the north-west to Andalucia – and briefly across to Gibraltar – in the extreme south.

He survived by busking, labouring on a building site in London for a year, and – briefly, when his trusty violin disintegrated in Malaga – as a tour guide.

With beautifully poetic language, he describes his experiences in green northern Spain and in the unrelenting heat of a southern summer, and the many kindnesses he encounters along the way, even from the very poorest people in the most remote villages.

And then war intervenes. He gets caught up in the first skirmishes of the Spanish Civil War and, reluctantly, returns home.

Laurie Lee didn’t write this memoir until 1969, as a sequel to his more famous book Cider with Rosie. And in the epilogue to As I Walked Out….he talks about his sense of betrayal in leaving his friends in Spain just as the Civil War is starting, and about his dangerous return – across the frozen Pyrenees – to rejoin the struggle.

  1. The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

0099282879.01.ZTZZZZZZIn this unsettling psychological thriller, the plot starts in New York but is played out across Europe, as amoral protagonist Tom Ripley insinuates himself into the hedonistic life of wealthy socialite Dickie Greenleaf.

From Mongibello in Italy, to San Remo, Rome and Venice, the increasingly desperate but always clever Mr. Ripley outwits Dickie, and the playboy’s family and friends to avoid returning to his own confidence-tricking life and persona back in the US.

Tom ultimately escapes to Greece, but the author leaves us wondering if her anti-hero might have a moral compass after all, and a conscience that will haunt his new existence in Europe.

You may have seen the visually lush 1999 film adaptation of the book, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. The location used for fictional Mongibello is the island of Ischia…..hop on the boat from Naples and insinuate yourself into the plot of this escapist adventure.

  1. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway 

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Largely based on the author’s own louche life in Europe in the 1920s, this sparely written novel follows a group of British and American expatriates coming to terms with Europe after the Great War.

Kicking off in Paris, Jake Barnes – impotent from a war wound – plays tennis with old US college friend Robert Cohn, and encounters promiscuous twice-divorced Lady Brett Ashley in a nightclub.

The action moves to northern Spain. Jake, Robert, Brett and other vivid characters drink heavily in Pamplona, enjoying bullfighting and the famous running of the bulls at the Festival of San Fermin through the city’s narrow alleyways. Brett seduces young matador Romero, causing violent jealousy amongst her coterie of admirers.

This essentially sad novel is about the so-called Lost Generation, wounded souls searching for some semblance of meaning in life after the madness of war.

  1. The Innocent – Ian McEwan

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This haunting novel takes place in post-war Germany, at the beginning of the Cold War that would define Europe for the next 40 years.

Leonard Marnham is a young English engineer living in Berlin. He is employed by the Americans to repair the tapes of recordings made in a secret tunnel to eavesdrop on the Soviet High Command conversations in the Russian Sector of the divided city. He gets caught up in the world of espionage when MI6 try to recruit him, and his innocence is laid bare once more when he falls in love with older German divorcee Maria.

The plot takes an even more sinister turn when Maria’s alcoholic ex-husband Otto shows up, and the hapless Leonard becomes embroiled in a picaresque adventure above and below the streets of Berlin. Check out our detailed review here, where we debate whether this is the quintessential Berlin novel.

Innocence Lost.

  1. My Life in France – Julia Child

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Californian Julia Child arrived in Paris in 1948, with her husband Paul and no knowledge of France or its cuisine. Indeed, in their life-defining first meal in the new city, Julia has to ask what a shallot is, that is part of her sole meuniere dish.

This book is a joyous memoir of someone who embraces the cuisine, culture and customs of her adopted country with the joie de vivre of a hungry glutton. Julia learns French, studies cooking at the Cordon Bleu school, prowls the food markets and soaks up so much knowledge that she ends up educating her home country about French cuisine on TV and through her seminal books.

My Life in France transports you to an optimistic Paris, recovering from the strictures of the war and embracing new freedoms in the world and on the plate.

All these 5 books are on the easily searchable TripFiction database. If you have already read them, why not add your own review on the website. And if you haven’t, you can order a copy from your favourite book seller here…..then take a trip to the location they’re set in, and write a review with the memories of place still fresh in your adventurous mind here.

And that is the essence of TripFiction….#literarywanderlust.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Catch up with Team TripFiction on Social Media: Twitter (@TripFiction), Facebook (@TripFiction.Literarywanderlust), YouTube (TripFiction #Literarywanderlust), Instagram (@TripFiction) and Pinterest (@TripFiction)

Further suggestions from our readers:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (Czech Republic in the main)

In this novel – a story of irreconcilable loves and infidelities – Milan Kundera addresses himself to the nature of twentieth-century ‘Being’ In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. We feel, says the novelist, ‘the unbearable lightness of being’ – not only as the consequence of our private acts but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

Juxtaposing Prague, Geneva, Thailand and the United States, this masterly novel encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, and embraces, it seems, all aspects of human existence. It offers a wide range of brilliant and amusing philosophical speculations and it descants on a variety of styles.

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