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Ten great books set in Madrid

22nd September 2020

Madrid is the latest city for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in Madrid. Madrid, Spain’s central capital, is a city of elegant boulevards and expansive, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro. It’s renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor, and nearby is the baroque Royal Palace and Armory, displaying historic weaponry.

‘To go to bed at night in Madrid marks you as a little queer. For a long time, your friends will be a little uncomfortable about it. Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night. Appointments with a friend are habitually made for after midnight at the cafe.’ – Ernest Hemingway


Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom

The Spanish Civil War is over, Madrid is in ruins, the Germans continue their sweep through Europe, and Franco refuses to enter the Second World War. Unassuming spy, Harry Brett, is sent over to Spain and rekindles his friendship with Sandy Forsyth. The novel twists and turns and really brings to life through clever use of turns of phrases of the epoc, intertwined relationships and a climactic end

Errant in Iberia by Ben Curtis

A life-changing move to Spain… This is the inspirational story of moving to a new country with nothing, then really living your dreams. Turning up in Madrid without a word of Spanish, Ben soon finds a job, beautiful language…


I am Venus by Bárbara Mujica

Many of the rest of Europe’s painters were heavily into the nude as an art form. The Spanish Inquisition was very much against this art form. This is the story of who the model might have been and the story of Velazquez’s rise to prominence and there is much to learn about the detailed history of the country

The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Plots abound in the Madrid of 1868. Everyone is discussing them apart from the fencing master, Don Jaime, currently working on the Treatise on the Art of Fencing. Dark violence crosses his path when he is approached by a beautiful woman enquiring if he can teach her the “Unstoppable Thrust”. Political manoeuvrings. A superb book with rich historical detail.

House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin

Ben Williamson has lost a daughter in a Basque separatist bombing in Madrid. Ben struggles with all the questions about the violence of her untimely deathand he needs to understand why this happened. In his search for answers he has to plumb the depths of tensions lurking beneath the surface of Spanish culture. This is the haunting story of one man’s brush with terrorism and how he tries to come to terms with his huge loss.

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his attitude towards art. Fuelled by strong coffee and self-prescribed tranquillizers, Adam’s ‘research’ soon becomes a meditation on the possibility of authenticity, as he finds himself increasingly troubled by the uncrossable distance between himself and the world around him. It’s not just his imperfect grasp of Spanish, but the underlying suspicion that his relationships, his reactions, and his entire personality are just as fraudulent as his poetry. In prose that veers between the comic and tragic, the self-contemptuous and the inspired, Leaving the Atocha Station is a dazzling introduction to one of the smartest, funniest and most audacious writers of his generation.

What’s the Girl Worth by Christina Fitzpatrick

Catherine Kelly explores the loss she experienced when her Father abandoned her as a child, she navigates her way through Madrid – along the cobble stoned alleys, the splendid sights, the heat filled courtyards in the company of Esteban. A proposal triggers her into making contact with her Father, which results in an emotionally explosive visit. The parallels of discovery with the city and her own emotional journey make for an emotionally charged narrative.

The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan

1627. In a notorious historical event, pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted 400 people into slavery in Algiers. Among them a pastor, his wife, and their children.

In her acclaimed debut novel Sally Magnusson imagines what history does not record: the experience of Asta, the pastor’s wife, as she faces her losses with the one thing left to her – the stories from home – and forges an ambiguous bond with the man who bought her. Uplifting, moving, and witty, The Sealwoman’s Gift speaks across centuries and oceans about loss, love, resilience and redemption.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

All the other bulls run, jump, and butt their heads together in fights. Ferdinand, on the other hand, would rather sit and smell the flowers. So what will happen when Ferdinand is picked for the bullfights in Madrid?

The Story of Ferdinandhas inspired, enchanted, and provoked readers ever since it was first published in 1936 for its message of nonviolence and pacifism. In WWII times, Adolf Hitler ordered the book burned in Nazi Germany, while Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, granted it privileged status as the only non-communist children’s book allowed in Poland.

The preeminent leader of Indian nationalism and civil rights, Mahatma Gandhi whose nonviolent and pacifistic practices went on to inspire Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. even called it his favorite book.

The Infatuations by Javier Marías

Every day, Maria Dolz stops for breakfast at the same café. And every day she enjoys watching a handsome couple who follow the same routine. Then one day they aren’t there, and she feels obscurely bereft.

It is only later, when she comes across a newspaper photograph of the man, lying stabbed in the street, his shirt half off, that she discovers who the couple are. Some time afterwards, when the woman returns to the café with her children, who are then collected by a different man, and Maria approaches her to offer her condolences, an entanglement begins which sheds new light on this apparently random, pointless death.

With The Infatuations, Javier Marías brilliantly reimagines the murder novel as a metaphysical enquiry, addressing existential questions of life, death, love and morality.

A couple of bonus books for you!


The Forging of a Rebel by Arturo Barea

The Forging of a Rebel is an unsurpassed account of Spanish history and society from early in the twentieth century through the cataclysmic events of the Spanish Civil War.

Arturo Barea’s masterpiece charts the author’s coming-of-age in a bruised and starkly unequal Spain. These three volumes recount in lively detail Barea’s daily experience of his country as it pitched towards disaster: we are taken from his youthful play and rebellion on the streets of Madrid, to his apprenticeship in the business world and to the horrors he witnessed as part of the Spanish army in Morocco during the Rif War. The trilogy culminates in an indelible portrait of the Republican fight against Fascist forces, in which the Madrid of Barea’s childhood becomes a shell and bullet-strewn warzone.

Combining historical sweep and authority with poignant characterization and novelistic detail, The Forging of a Rebel is a towering literary and historical achievement.

The Hive by Camilo José Cela

Banned for many years by the Franco regime, Cela’s masterpiece presents a panoramic view of the degradation and suffering of the lower-middle class in post-Civil War Spain. Readers are introduced to over a hundred characters through a series of interlocking vignettes, transforming this book from a social document into a towering work of inventive fiction. Filled with violence, hunger, and compassion, The Hive captures the ambitions and constraints of life under a dictatorship.

Fortunata and Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós

Galdos’s four-part Fortunata and Jacinta (1886-7), the masterpiece among his almost 80 novels, tells the turbulent story of two women, their husbands and their lovers, set against the intricate web of dynastic alliances and class contrasts of Madrid in the 1870s.

Have you read any of these? Are there others you would add? Let us know in the Comments below.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: Dave McCall

    Posted on: 01/10/2020 at 10:40 am

    And this one… David Ebsworth’s “Until the Curtain Falls”, the central story set in Madrid between December 1938 and February 1939. Intrigue and mayhem at the close of the #SpanishCivilWar.