Travel through the bookshelf: Alice Myers takes to the places we love to travel one page turn at a time...
This year has been very different. Many of us missed overseas adventures in the summer due to the pandemic. So if you are missing your usual travel fix, here are the books about travelling that will safely transport you to Europe and across the Atlantic – no travel insurance, and no sun cream needed.
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
The tension and complexity of ’50s Naples is brought to life in glorious detail in the first book of the Neapolitan series from Italian author Ferrante. Elena and Lila meet as eight-year olds in a working-class district of Naples. Their friendship develops through adolescence and all the emotional complication that brings, against the backdrop of this gritty city on the edge of the sea.
A Florentine Death, Michelle Giuttari
Join the tourists on the Ponte Vecchio with Michele Ferrara, chief of the Florentine Police as your guide. This clever Italian crime writing reveals the seedy underbelly of Florence. As Ferrara pursues the investigation of a number of brutal murders you see enter the darker side of Florence’s antiques trade and the activities of the craftsmen of the Santo Spirito. Next time you visit the Uffizi, you may look at the paintings rather differently.
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A tense mystery set in Barcelona just after the Spanish Civil War. The plot is as intricate as the streets and alleys of the Gothic Quarter. As Daniel Sempere is pulled deeper into the tangle of the city, its atmosphere is beautifully conveyed. It may make you long to walk down the Ramblas before sitting in one of Barcelona’s cafes with a small coffee, or glass of cognac with a plate of ham.
The Cleaner of Chartres, Sally Vickers
Visit a UNESCO World Heritage site, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres. The cathedral sits at the centre of this sensitively told story of loss and redemption. Agnès Morel’s early life was complicated. Following a series of unfortunate episodes, she settles and builds herself a life in Chartres. As we discover more about Agnès, we see more of the cathedral. Events uncoil along the path of the labyrinth floor just inside the West doors, lit by the sun shining through the rose windows of the North and South transepts.
The Bones of Paris, Laurie R King
Harris Stuyvesant is a Private Investigator tasked with tracking down a missing American girl in Paris. This fast-paced novel may be set in the 1920s, but much of the Paris Stuyvesant searches through is still familiar today. Stuyvesant spends the Paris summer nights in uncomfortably small hotel rooms, and lunches in noisy brasseries smelling of wine and garlic. The search crosses Paris delving into the Montparnasse art world and visiting cabaret in Montmartre. You will even visit the famous English language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company in the 5th arrondissement. Laurie R King takes you to parts of the city you would never visit alone.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
This will shake you out of the “mean reds”. Ride in Central Park, walk along tree-lined streets of brownstones, and gaze at windows full of impossibly priced antiques on Third Avenue. Talk to the bartender at Joe Bell’s, and when your cocktail is finished walk over to Hamburg Heaven and sit at the long counter. This is as much a portrait of New York as a portrait of the ever-surprising Holly Golightly.
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
A disconcerting but fascinating medley of interconnected stories. These stories communicate the chaos and noise of New York, the noise of traffic and the lights that penetrate every apartment however substantial the blinds. Egan captures the way New York is constantly changing, from the World Trade Centre site to new skyscrapers reaching up to steal precious light from the inhabitants of neighbouring buildings.
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
Harrison William Shepherd’s boyhood is spent on Isla Pixol and then in Mexico City. As he sees these places for the first time, we see them too. We follow Harrison as he grows up between Mexico and the US and into adulthood where he must navigate a complicated political landscape. On the Isla Pixol we are taken underwater to look at schools of colourful fish, and up into the canopy to look for shrieking monkeys. Kingsolver’s depth of detail transports you, creating a truly convincing world you can taste and smell.