5 Inspiring Books Set in Italy

Italy’s rich culture, fascinating history and beautiful landscapes have been inspiring literature since time immemorial.

January 2017 • Jules Verne

5 Inspiring Books Set in Italy

Despite being a relatively young country - having only been united from disparate states in the 1800s – Italy’s rich culture, fascinating history and beautiful landscapes have been inspiring literature since time immemorial. Books that chronicle the remarkable country span a range of genres and styles, yet each manages to capture its unparalleled beauty and majesty. Even great literates such as Dante and Shakespeare have recounted the unique country in their work, making choosing our five favourite books particularly challenging.

  1.     Romola by George Eliot

Although Romola isn’t one of George Eliot’s best known works, she herself thought of it as one of her strongest pieces of writing. Set in 15th century Florence, the novel immerses itself in the artistic, religious and political life of the city, where the characters are influenced by real life historical events that occurred at the time the novel is set. Like most George Eliot novels, this masterfully wrought fiction is a highly rewarding read. Eliot dedicated over a year of her time to researching the historical and geographical facts of the book, including making several trips to Florence. Romola serves as a fascinating introduction to the city of Florence, and will undoubtedly hold the attention of those who have frequently visited.

  1.     A Thousand Days of Venice by Marlena de Blasi

This autobiographical book tells the story of an unexpected romance. Marlena de Blasi, a divorced American chef, travels through Venice and falls in love with both the city and an Italian man named Fernando. De Blasi’s acute attention to detail, beautifully rendered vignettes and meticulously illustrated recipes offer a very personal experience of Venetian culture. An autobiography come cookbook, come travelogue are intertwined to create an immensely compelling depiction of the city, sure to charm its readers, and entice many to discover its secrets, vistas and culinary delights for themselves.

  1.     Shadows in Bronze by Linsey Davis

The Falco series by Linsey Davis, takes the modern crime genre and transposes it to an ancient setting. These fascinating and intriguing novels take place in a wide range of settings across Italy and beyond and are famed for their historical accuracy. Set in picturesque Rome, the novel’s gripping plot and relatable characters inspire fans and new-readers alike to visit the cities cited, including Rome and Alexandria. Shadows in Bronze is the second novel in the series and follows Marcus Didius Falco, the central protagonist and private informer, around the city of Rome and Southern Italy as he investigates the murderous members of a failed coup.

  1.     My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante has become something of a literary celebrity since publishing My Brilliant Friend, the first in her four-part Neapolitan series, in 2012. Since then, Ferrante’s fame and popularity has risen, culminating in her being named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine in 2016. Her writing is showcased perfectly in her masterful quartet, of which My Brilliant Friendkick-starts. Set in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples in the 50s, Ferrante carefully depicts a wonderfully scrupulous portrait of the lives of two girls and the intimate friendship they develop into womanhood, all the while giving the city a life and character arc of its own. The unique style and structure of the novel make it a pleasurable and undemanding read, and will without question inspire its readers to discover Naples for themselves.

  1.     Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster

E.M. Forster wrote a number of evocative books about countries he visited on his many extended travels (A Passage to India and A Room with a View are recommended in recent VJVReads posts.) We loved Where Angels Fear to Tread for many of the same reasons; astute, wry and witty observations, a keen sense of the political, as well as a palpable love of the country in which his narrative is set. This novel centres around a young British widow named Lilia, who travels to Italy, where she falls in love and has a child. Although a romance novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread is certainly original - filled with biting cynicism, a mature worldliness and of course, stunning descriptions of an altogether unconventional setting.

Discover Italy for yourself on one of our tours, or find more travel inspiration through other posts in our Jules Verne Reads series.