top of page

DISCOVER / 10 Favourite Books featuring Italy

I enjoyed participating in #ReadaNewBookMonth earlier this year. The main task I set myself was to really delve into a great Italian cookery book which I'd been meaning to put to the test for a few months. But you can read about that here.

The project is a great excuse to give yourself the time you may not always make to dedicate to reading. It doesn't matter which month you choose, it is just about making a conscious effort in a busy life to try a different genre, re-read a favourite, book swap with family or friends or set yourself a challenge such as reading a book written in Italian or to read a book a week.

One thing I have always tried to do, all year round, is to seek out a book set in a place I'm going to visit or vice versa. I love to visit places I’ve read about in literature and often pack a favourite to read-read once I’m there.

To mark the end of my recent reading endeavours I thought I would compile a list of some of my favourites on an Italian theme!

1. A Room with a View BY E.M. Forster. Surely, no list of novels set in Italy could be complete be complete without this one. I studied this for my English Literature A Level, thus beginning my curiosity about the country; the light, the contrast with life in England. Years later I began re-reading during a 36 hour coach trip to Florence, finishing on a lovely campsite in Fiesole, the Etruscan hill town also featured in the novel.

'' But Italy worked some marvel in her. It gave her light, gave her shadow.''

2. A Patch of Green Water - Karen Hayes

I picked this one up in a book exchange on a a campsite in the Loire and loved it. I don't think I would have discovered it otherwise as I've never seen it anywhere since. It was an easy summer holiday read but loved the descriptions of the Venetian campi, criss-crossing canals and streets and immediately wanted to extend my summer holiday via Venice.

3. The Venice Experiment: A Year of Trial and Error Living Abroad - Barry Frangipane

I read this one when I was living in Bassano del Grappa for a year and it made an interesting comparison with my own recent experiences of moving to Italy. Despite his American rather than English origin, I could giggle at our similar entanglements with all the administration involved in moving home (nothing happens quickly) and enjoyed his tales of daily life and adapting to the rhythm of Venice. Dotted throughout with sprinkles of the language, sights of the city and references to delicious food, this is another easy read.

4. An Italian Education- Tim Parks

I enjoyed parts of this book which gave clarity to a lot of my experiences living in Italy. I remember discussing lots of comparisons between Italian and English traits with Stefano as I was reading it on our road trip to England from his home in the Veneto and we agreed with lots of the author's observations. I was particularly interested reading about the strong rivalry between the North and South of the country which I had not picked up on when livng there. However once I was back in Devon I must admit to putting this book down and I'm yet to go back to it, I have heard his prequel Italian Neighbours - An Englishman in Verona is the more entertaining of the two. I am also eager to read A Literary Tour of Italy

5. Only In Naples: Lessons in Food and Familglia - Katherine Wilson

I loved this book, a memoir of falling in love with the Italian kitchen and family life, we see the writer develop her self-assurance before our eyes as she embraces what it has to offer her. Travel, food and a good love story is a winning recipe in my eyes!

“There is a chaotic, vibrant energy about Naples that forces you to let go and give in,”

6. Elena Ferrante - My Brilliant Friend

7.Elena Ferrante - The Story of a New Name

8. Elena Ferrante- Those who Leave and Those who Stay

9. Elena Ferrante - The Story of the Lost Child

This series, the Neopolitan Novels is so utterly fabulous that it without a doubt deserves to take a place per book in this list. These are all fairly recent reads recommended to me by a lovely fellow mummy friend. All are set in the 1950's and follow the lives of childhood friends Lila and Elena growing up in a poor but vibrant village on the edge of Naples. Starting from the tales of their relationship Ferrante illustrates both the personal and political themes of life in Italy.

The novels continue to juxtapose the life of Elena who has escaped the small town she felt so stifled by to pursue her studies and travels with that of Lila who has married and settled into her husband's local business. The joys and challenges of both choices are illustrated both through their private thoughts and the times when their lives re-entwine.

The books take us right through to the present day following their lives amidst the Italian physical and social landscape. I'm also intrigued by the fact that this acclaimed author's identity is still a secret!

“Today it is near impossible to find writers capable of bringing smells, tastes, feelings, and contradictory passions to their pages. Elena Ferrante, alone, seems able to do it. There is no writer better suited to composing the great Italian novel of her generation, her country, and her time than she.”—Il Manifesto

10. The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe

This one takes me back to my study of Gothic Fiction at university. Part of this 18th century romantic novel is set in Venice which the author had never visited, instead gathering her descriptions from travel writing of the time. An interesting read nonetheless and highly influential within the genre, notably satirised by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey.

Also recommended...

Ernest Hemingway - A Farewell to Arms and several less known novels for scenes of the Veneto. The writer spent a great deal of time in the region, including Bassano del Grappa

Tender is the Night by Scott F Fitzgerald for the scenes set in Rome

Where Angels Fear to Tread- EM Forster

The Enchanted April- Elizabet von Armin

Plus, anything else I can get my hands on by Elena Ferrante!

What would you add to the list?


17 views0 comments
bottom of page