Katharine Johnson is a freelance writer and editor and has worked for a variety of magazines. She has a passion for crime novels, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. When not writing she plays netball badly and is a room guide in a stately home. She is currently writing her third novel.
Why Italy? By Katharine Johnson
I’m on holiday in Italy at the moment with Elena Ferrante – well not literally but I am reading my way through her superb Neapolitan Quartet. Ms Ferrante is obviously writing about her home country but a lot of authors from other countries have also chosen to set their stories in Italy.
This has got me thinking about why Italy makes such a great setting for stories.
In A Room With A View by EM Forster the beautiful views, the freely mixing social classes and the acceptance of passion as a positive rather than negative thing contrast with Lucy Honeychurch’s very ‘proper’ Edwardian upbringing and make her question the course on which her future is set.
Older characters can also be transformed by a visit to Italy – the four women in Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim want to escape the tedium of life back home but end up learning about themselves and what they want out of life during their stay in the beautiful Medieval castle.
And Italy works its magic on the timid, retired schoolteacher in Miss Garnett’s Angel by Sally Vickers when she ventures out there for six months after the death of her only friend.
It’s not just about beauty but extremes. Italy, partly because of its long history, is such a country of contrasts – beauty and brutality – which is captured so well in Sarah Dunant’s book The Birth of Venus. Life in Medici Florence is full of fantastic art, richly coloured fabrics, sumptuous feasts – but it’s a harsh world for a young woman who loves art but is not allowed to paint or even talk to an artist.
Stories set in gorgeous villas make perfect holiday reading and since Shakespeare Italy has been associated with romance – The Secrets of Villa Rosso by Linn B Halton, Under A Tuscan Sky by Karen Aldous, A Wedding in Italy by Tilly Tennant, The Italian Matchmaker by Santa Montefiore and Dreaming of Venice by TA Williams to name a few.
The glamour of Italy provides a perfect setting for crime novels. In The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith Tom Ripley is sent to a beautiful, remote village in southern Italy by wealthy Mr Greenleaf to persuade his playboy son Dickie to come home. But Tom falls in love with Dickie Greenleaf’s lifestyle and begins to want it for himself.
Perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious of all Italian cities, Venice has inspired so many stories including Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice, Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now and a series of detective novels by Donna Leon. The contrast between the beautiful architecture and the grisly past as well as the shadows and mist make it perfect for suspense stories.
I’m going to Venice later this month and will be taking with me The Venetian by Shani Struthers and on the journey back through Verona I hope to read The Ghostly Father by Sue Barnard which is inspired by Romeo and Juliet.
This is just a tiny selection of books set in Italy. Do you have any favourites to add to this list?
My Italy- based novel
The back story to my novel The Silence is set in Tuscany. I chose Tuscany because I wanted somewhere beautiful and very different from Abby’s suburban English home so that the events would take on an unreal, dreamlike quality in her recollection, making it hard for her to know which ones to trust. It also had to be somewhere hot – so that as the temperature rises so do the tensions between the characters. It needed to be somewhere remote so that Abby’s secret would stay safe for a long time. But because of the trend for buying up old Tuscan wrecks and restoring them, I felt that ultimately a discovery would be made which would threaten to shatter her comfortable life.
I hope it’s worked. You can judge for yourself at http://mybook.to/TheSilence
Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything.
When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity.
In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.
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