This week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is all about books set outside the US. As I am from the UK and read a lot of books set there too, I decided to make this challenge a bit harder by choosing books set away from both the US and here (although some of these do include sections in the UK, they’re mainly set in continental Europe). I haven’t even made the list yet and I’m already feeling nostalgic for a time when Europe didn’t hate us and over half this country hadn’t yet believed Nigel Farage’s obviously ludicrous claims about the NHS.
Anyway, here’s my list of 10 brilliant books set in Europe.
- Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood
This isn’t set entirely in Europe, but does take in both France and Spain, so it counts. This fictionalised account of Ernest Hemingway’s four marriages is, for me, far more interesting than any of Hemingway’s actual novels. Wood uses adverbs and everything.
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
This very short and completely heartbreaking book is set in Paris and follows a doomed romance between two men, interrupted by the arrival of the fiancee of one them (and the fact that he is, essentially, very mean).
- The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas gets all the attention, but I thought this was even better; it’s a fictionalised version of the last days of the Russian Tsar and what happened to the legendary princess Anastasia. It really pulls you into Russia, making it feel rather weird when you put it down and realise you’re actually in Yorkshire.
- Guernica by Dave Boling
As something of a Spanish Civil War obsessive, I’m really picky about books set in that period; I usually find that writers try to include the whole story of the conflict in one narrative, which just seems unrealistic. I read Guernica at the start of my historical obsession and it destroyed me; I think a lot of people aren’t aware of this war and this particular incident, which makes it even more worth reading.
- Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Obviously I’m picking this; it’s set in different parts of France, mainly Paris, and is one of the greatest books ever written. If you haven’t read it, be warned: there is no singing.
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Disclaimer: although I’ve read a few of Zafon’s books, I do not completely love them. However, his evocation of Barcelona is wondrous; it’s one of my favourite cities (even though the last time I went, thieves stole my daughter’s pushchair and I spent a day trying to hunt them down) and this is the perfect book for someone who’s walked La Rambla.
- Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan
Another little book, another one set in the South of France; this is a superb coming-of-age story that perfectly evokes its setting.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book won the Pulitzer Prize so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t need me talking it up, but it’s a quintessential European novel, split between France and Germany during WW2.
- Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
More WW2, this time set in Germany. The book follows the story of a couple who place dissenting postcards all over Berlin, which brings them to the attention of the Gestapo. It’s an intense, tragic and claustrophobic read.
- Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks
Faulks has written a couple of books set during wartime in Europe (Birdsong being the other notable example), but this one is my favourite; it follows a young woman who travels to France during WW2 to find the man she loves. I’ve just made it sound much cheesier than it is. I would like to reread this but, sadly, I lent my copy out years ago and never got it back. And this is why I don’t lend books any more.
That’s my list, then. Have you read these? What did you think? Please leave links to your TTTs in the comments so I can stalk your bookshelves… I mean… no, wait; that’s exactly what I meant.