The Landscapes of Literature

In one of my posts whilst Guest Editing for Fiction Uncovered last month which you can read here, I promise I won’t mention it too much more but it was such a big deal for me on a personal level, I talked about the importance of landscape within literature. Now this was a piece on the  British landscape so I was talking about how bored I am of British books being featured in London so much as there is so much else outside of the capital that you should be reading about, as I suggest. However what about the places outside the UK?

One of the (many, many) marvellous things about books is how in just a few pages we can be completely transported to another place, even another planet however I like to stick to earth overall. So having thought about the landscape of the British Isles I had a pondering of the places that I would like to read about that I haven’t as much as I might like, if at all.

Being a complete hypocrite I instantly thought of some of the capital cities I have yet to go to fictionally, I won’t start thinking about all the cities I have yet to physically visit for fear of weeping. The instant ones that spring to mind were Buenos Aires, Vienna, Helsinki, Seoul, and Moscow… I could go on. I noticed though that my main fictional destinations were in three places. Northern Europe (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia) then Russia and then North Asia (both North and South Korea, China, Mongolia, Japan) and so I think I would not only like to read about the main cities out there but also the countryside.

I am learning that as I get older the countryside calls to me more. I am not talking wild jungles, or remote deserts or wild lands, though they can be fun, more the countryside where villages and towns sporadically appear as that is where you will find some of the best stories as whilst in cities people can do and get away with pretty much anything, there is something fascinating about the countryside with the fact secrets are harder to keep (people twitch curtains so much more in the countryside, it is true don’t pretend it’s not) and also there is the insider vs. outsider mentality which I find fascinating!

So can you help, can you recommend any books that cover the cities, the countryside or even both in the places that I mention above? I would be most grateful. If you want a list of books that you might like to try that uncover some of the areas outside London in Britain do have a gander at this. Also do let me know which landscapes in your home countries and abroad really intrigue you, we may all have recommendations for each other!



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15 responses to “The Landscapes of Literature

  1. simonsylvester

    Totally agree with you about London, Simon! Scandinavia is good, especially for forests.

    Have you read Savage Detectives? I know I harp on about it all the time, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the breadth of landscapes, stories and people it visits is extraordinary – from Spanish campsites to Mexican desert towns and rain-drenched Paris.

    Closer to home, landscape is a massive part of why and how I write – Quercus asked me to blog about Scottish islands for The Visitors: (Shameless plug.)

  2. For reading set in North Korea, I highly recommend Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. Nonfiction, it tells the stories of people living outside of Pyongyang, in both bigger cities and smaller towns. A story that I enjoyed set in the Japanese countryside was The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiya.

  3. My favourite landscape writer, if you will, is Cormac McCarthy – his Border Trilogy is especially impressive/evocative.

    As for British landscapes, you could do worse than reading the rather excellent T.F. Powys (I recommend ‘Unclay’ especially)..

  4. Arctic Norway: 40 Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc
    Finland: Arto Paasilinna
    Sweden: August Strindberg

    I probably have more suggestions, but my head’s all full of Eurovision songs :/

    • Another great Norwegian book is the Birds by Tarjei Vesaas. Similar setting to Out Stealing Horses which Mike S already mentioned.

      I also have to recommend A True Novel by Minae Mizumura. Who knew Japan could be so quiet? And then there’s the contrast to Tokyo and New England.

  5. I’m not sure if it’s available in the UK yet, but I just finished reading All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon, which is set mainly in Moscow, but also in Belarus and near the Chernobyl power plant. The writing is fantastic and the book reminded me a bit of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I know you’re a fan of. Highly recommended.

  6. I have wanted to read Wendell Berry’s works. He is a Kentucky (USA) farmer and writer who has written essays, poems, and novels about farming and the countryside. Jayber Crow is considered by many to be his greatest novel.

  7. I’m just putting together an article about crime fiction set in unusual locations – and I mean really unusual ones, not necessarily places you would want to visit. However, I generally love reading books that are set in locations I would like to go or in locations that I know well. Atmosphere is very important in a book.

  8. Hi Simon – For Vienna (and a small town outside it) – I would recommend Stefan Zweig’s ‘The Post Office Girl’ as long as you are not looking for something too uplifting, as this book most definitely is not! You may also find some inspiration for Buenos Aires and Moscow at my little labour of love over at – where I have novels categorised by country. I haven’t managed to do Austria, Finland or Korea yet I’m afraid! Suzi

  9. Pingback: The Landscapes of Literature | Savidge Reads | DANA TOURSDANA TOURS

  10. kaggsysbookishramblings

    For St. Petersburg, Bely’s “Petersburg” is good, and also Gogol and Dostoevsky capture the city in their major works. Platonov is good for a strange slant on Moscow, and also Bulgakov!

  11. D

    Have you tried The Man With the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi? A Taiwanese environmental, magical-realism book. I’ve never been to Taiwan, unfortunately, but the descriptions are apparantly a good feel for the Taiwanese countryside. Interesting book too.

  12. Mike S

    Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses is set in the frigid deep forests along the Norway-Sweden border. The story is immersed in the landscape. Fine novel; also, McTeague, by Frank Norris, 1899. San Francisco, before the earthquake. Very evocative.

  13. I believe you have The White Woman on the Green Bicycle in your TBR pile? That book immerses you in the politics and voluptuous landscape of the island of Trinidad. I also just finished Strange Weather in Tokyo if you’d like to go bar hopping with lonely hearts in that city….

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