Words || Monica McInerney
I read for so many reasons: escape, entertainment, enlightenment, comfort, enjoyment, distraction, but also to be swept up and away to other places. Here are ten recommendations of stories with strong settings that I hope will send you and your imagination travelling far and wide too.
DUBLIN: The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French. There have been six books so far in this gripping, atmospheric crime series that brings Dublin alive in the tensest and sometimes creepiest of ways: In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbour, The Secret Place and The Trespasser.
VENICE: I’m a big fan of Donna Leon’s series of crime novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, solving intriguing crimes of a personal and political nature while taking the reader on a non-touristy tour of the beautiful city of Venice. (The food descriptions are always delicious too.)
EDINBURGH: The 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith brings Edinburgh to life in such a quirky and affectionate way, with descriptions of the city’s New Town, art galleries, cafes and a lively mix of fictional and real Edinburgh characters.
AUSTRALIA: It’s so hard to choose just one, so I am going for a classic – Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career. Sparky and smart, filled with descriptions of the Australian landscape, weather, society and class system, I re-read it often.
SAN FRANCISCO: It has to be Armistead Maupin’s series Tales of the City, several decades old now but still brimming with vibrant details of life, love, death, day-to-day society in the city, seen through the eyes of a wonderful cast of characters.
SARAJEVO: Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic: A Child’s Life in Wartime Sarajevo. Last year I had the honour to hear Zlata, now in her 30s, interviewed at a literary festival here in Ireland. Her diary, first published in the 1990s, records her life as an eleven-year-old in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. It’s been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank in its honest, heart-breaking and detailed description of the effects of war on a child. Zlata moves from writing about birthday parties and visits from school friends to food shortages, the deaths of friends and family and the terror of constant bombardments in her besieged city.
BERLIN: I’m just back from a research trip to this fascinating city myself, and a good friend recommended I read Gail Jones’ A Guide to Berlin, the story of a group of readers and booklovers coming together in the city under unusual circumstances. It’s on top of my bedside table.
FRANCE: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle sparked a whole series of foreigner-in-France novels, as well as a film. There are many more authentic novels about France, but this one takes the biscuit/the croissant for depicting the beautiful sunshine, scenery, food and wine in such an alluring way.
NEW YORK: So many New York novels, so little time to read them all – but Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin is on most lists, including mine. A kaleidoscope of characters, locations and plotlines that takes you right in to the heart of this teeming city.
DORSET: The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. It was Enid Blyton’s stories that first bewitched me into the world of books. I borrowed them all from my local Clare library, reading them during hot Australian summers against a soundtrack of magpies and cricket on the TV. I was instantly transported to the villages, cliffs, coves, moors and tiny islands of south west England, vividly picturing the English weather, food, accents. Visiting Dorset for the first time as an adult was a magical experience, like stepping back into my childhood again.
About the author
One of the stars of Australian fiction, Monica McInerney is the author of the internationally bestselling novels A Taste For It, Upside Down Inside Out, Spin the Bottle, The Alphabet Sisters, Family Baggage, Those Faraday Girls, At Home with the Templetons, Lola’s Secret, The House of Memories and her latest The Trip of a Lifetime. She grew up in a family of seven children in the Clare Valley of South Australia and has been living between Australia and Ireland for twenty years. She and her Irish husband currently live in Dublin.