Tuesday, 3 August 2010

City lit: travel books with a difference

When I travel abroad I'll often try and take a novel with me set in the place I'm visiting, or by someone from that country. Living in London, we're fairly used to seeing our city represented in print (the same goes for the USA, especially in terms of cinema). It's so commonplace, it's rare to get a true feeling of identification; more usually, we'll notice when a glaring infelicity grates, or when we don't agree with a characterisation of our city.

In his novel The Family Arsenal, Paul Theroux notes that London always looks better in the rain. From the vantage point of a rather lovely summer I don't agree, and this observation has always slightly rankled. Perhaps it was of its time; and what about London in snow? Beautiful.

Travelling to Edinburgh and North Berwick recently I enjoyed Maggie O'Farrell's After You'd Gone on the recommendation of a friend. I'm about to reread Howard Norman's The Museum Guard having been to Amsterdam for the first time earlier this year and hope it captures something of that very fun city.

A trip to Prague was a lovely time to revisit Kafka, and seek out some of his sites in the city. There's a host of great Czech authors out there to enjoy and, I noted in a recent post, Penguin has just reissued some other notable Eastern European books to enjoy (fiction and non). Meanwhile, Arthur Phillips' Prague is a perfect fit for Budapest.

It need not necessarily be the work of a national: David Mitchell would seem a good fit for Japan if ever I manage to get there (I wouldn't want to visit the Tokyo of Ryu Murakami); I've written elsewhere about fictional depictions of Belgium by English-speaking writers. Heading to Denmark, I cheated and read a work by Icelander Halldor Laxness , but I couldn't see any other time when I'll read him. I was heartily recommended Aksel Sandemose while in Copenhagen and have yet to get round to him, perhaps another trip is in order.

As we know, it can work another way: I don't think I'll ever get to Australia, but I've read the marvellous Tim Winton so don't really feel I need to. And there are times when you might want to be a little circumspect about what you take with you: I wouldn't rush to Saudi Arabia with Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh in your hand luggage. If you're off on your hols: happy reading!

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