Ten Captivating Novels Set in Europe
The Girl with a Pearl Earing, Tracey Chevalier
Setting: Delft, Netherlands
Chevalier writes with such evocative tones in this one of my favourite books. You can, when reading it, almost smell the river and the rotting vegetables and stale beer of the 17th century town where artist Johannes Vermeer painted his now famous picture of the girl who was his family’s maid. The setting is bright yet dark; fast yet slow; heavy yet light. One of my favourite European novels.
The Bourne Series, Robert Ludlum
Setting: Paris, Berlin, London and so many more
The fast-paced, city-stretching dynamics of not only the book series, but also the highly successful film trilogy, lend themselves to such a great story here. I think this shows, in a different way to Chevalier’s novel, how place can be crucial when setting up a story. Mix it up fast, with petrol scents and car chases, and you have a true page-turner. And a huge movie franchise.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Setting: Naples, Italy
I actually came to this exquisite novel by watching first the movie starring Jude Law and Matt Damon in the lead roles. The book evokes such a romantic picture of Italy, yet at the same time paints, in scorching tones, the heat of Naples, the wine and the hedonistic living, all of it adding to the tension and pace that eventually culminates in the fatal crime of the plot. Wonderful.
The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
I think I may have become slightly obsessed with Sweden and all Nordic countries after reading this book and, indeed, the whole trilogy – the cold and the bleak landscape that lends itself to the feeling of isolation and being trapped. I loved the names, the language – all of it, as well as the cracking story. Larsson’s series kicked started my love of not only Nordic Noir in literature, but in TV shows, too.
Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
Setting: Dublin, Ireland
Irish myself and brought up in Dublin for the first few years of my life, I recall reading McCourt’s book and nodding my head. Even though I hail from a younger generation, I still found myself relating to the Catholic church references, the ‘Pint’ that the dad goes to drink – all of it so fundamentally Irish. Sure, times have changed, but still today, much about Dublin – for bad or good – remains as it was all those decades ago.
A Most Wanted Man, John Le Carré
One of my hero writers, John le Carré spans the length and breadth of Europe in his novels with the ease of a hull of a ship gliding through the still waters of the sea. A Most Wanted Man is a fine example, I believe, of just how much place in a novel can play such a huge part in not only the plot, but in the narrative and the evocative feelings it can instantly relay. A masterpiece.
Keeping up with Magda, Isla Dewer
Setting: Scottish coast
This book I have read at least four times. It’s like a comfortable blanket you can wrap around yourself while you eat a nice slice of cake – the story just makes you feel better. And it’s the setting, as well as the well-drawn characters, that really makes it so welcoming and reassuring and, well, a bit like therapy. Keeping Up With Magda is a novel set in the fictional village of Mareth on the Scottish coast and evokes such a feeling of the sea and seagulls and the bracing cold, salt infused air, you feel as if you’ve been there yourself. Love it.
My Father’s Glory and my Mother’s Castle, Marcel Pagnol
Setting: Provence countryside, France
My goodness, how I fell in love with Provence when I read this book as a 17-year-old in college studying French way back. The heat, the click of the cicadas, the endless days of sun and skipping and sharing a joke with the family. This is Pagnol’s depiction of his glorious, easygoing childhood with a father who was a strong, principled man, and ever since I read it, I formed a love of France that has never left me.
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
Ah, Paris. What’s not to love? Published after Hemingway’s death, A Moveable Feast is a memoir of what happened when he was a young writer in Paris. It evokes a wonderful, all-senses picture of the famed French capital with stories that run through the cafes, streets, restaurants and bars he frequented during his time there with his then wife, Hadley. Glorious.
A Room with a View, E.M.Forster
I am a huge admirer of Forester, not only for his novels, but for his writing teachings too, particularly the papers he delivered to Cambridge University in the 1920s that culminated in the non-fiction book, Aspects of a Novel. In A Room with a View, we get to go to Florence, and when I first read it, I had never been to Italy, yet since then, I have travelled to Florence and was taken aback at how accurately Forester not only portrayed the physical aspect of the city, but of the feeling it cooks up: excitement, romance, creativity and adventure. An expert piece of writing.
Nikki Owen’s debut novel, Subject 375 will be released by Blackstone Publishing in September 2016, available in audio, ebook, and hardcover.