- Book: Around the World in 80 Novels
- Location: World
- Author: Henry Russell
Sometimes the setting of a novel is as important as the story – where would Dickens be without London, or Edith Wharton without New York? Who can read Jamaica Inn and not want to visit Bodmin Moor, or enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency without wondering whether perhaps Botswana should be on your bucket list?
Here’s a book after TripFiction’s own heart! Someone who has been inspired to bring together and curate 80+ novels that will offer readers a glimpse into another world and the opportunity for some real literary wanderlust!
The author talks about the criteria for selection, which must have been a real issue. So hard! Where do you start (one might say with the TripFiction website, lol)? Researching the panoply of books out there with a strong setting and then whittling them down to a mere 80 must indeed have been a Herculean task without doubt! Just HOW do you go about selecting top reads that evoke locale? Huge tomes on occasion were dismissed, says the author, and others were a natural choice for inclusion: you could, for example, never compile a list without including Chocolat by Joanne Harris, where the French village is a product of the author’s imagination but plenty of readers think they have actually visited it! Location feels THAT real!
The titles have been chosen by Henry Russell and he has selected eclectic novels both past and present that will whisk you around the world for the price of a book.
The chosen novels are indeed by no means all contemporary. He selects Dickens as one of the go-to authors (and quite rightly so) for conjuring up London (Bleak House); and includes How Green Was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn for gritty life in Wales. He has no qualms about the inclusion of older texts because as he notes the past is very much in the present, you just have to visit the WW1 graves in France and Flanders to get a real sense of history – whether via the stark reminders in the countryside or through fiction that can transport a reader back in time in a very different way (just consider Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which of course finds its place in the book).
Included are many of the great writers who transport their readers to a vivid setting via a great narrative – Hemingway, Zafón, Ferrante, Lampedusa and I was so glad to see The Towers of Trebizond (Turkey) by Rose McAuley featured, as it was one of the first books that promoted my interest in books that take a reader to new and exciting places. Donna Leon and indeed Venice itself, (which doesn’t have a dedicated book of its own in the main section) gets included at the end under “Further Reading” as does iconic Graham Greene (Brighton Rock). Neither Andrea Camilleri (Sicily) nor Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, often dubbed THE novel of Australia, have been selected. Omitted too are the books of Mary Renault, The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles and the books by Dan Brown (whose novels has spawned tours of the locations featured in his books) – these authors might well have been top choices to appear on a list such as this, but you cannot possibly feature everyone and every pertinent title. No list will ever be complete or indeed suit every taste and reading preference! A book of this ilk can never meet universal approval.
Henry Russell and his team describe in the introduction that for various reasons they have decided NOT to include Don Quixote, The Sorrows of Young Werther, War and Peace and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn event though these are deemed as great novels with a strong sense of place. They then do, however, make an appearance in the “Further Reading” section.
Russell had to decide which countries to feature and this echoes the difficulties Ann Morgan also faced in her book Reading The World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer – she set herself the task of reading one book from every country, and eventually settled on 196 countries + Kurdistan (check out her book as to how she got to her final list of countries, it’s fascinating!).
And many of the go-to books of the travel book genre, that are really strong on locale are of course featured, like populist stalwarts The Beach (Ko Phi Phi) by Alex Garland and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (Bombay/India). However, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Rome / India / Bali) is not included; and Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden (Kyoto) is often up there with the other three but similarly hasn’t been chosen for inclusion.