Books Set in Ireland – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

If you are traveling to Ireland, then you will no doubt be aware of the rich literary tradition the country has. Almost everywhere you go there are references to Irish writers, such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. And even today, somehow the Irish seem to be able to tell a story better than just about anyone else – whether it be in written form, or just through a chat in the pub.

So, if a trip to The Emerald Isle is on the agenda, then it is almost compulsory to take some books set in Ireland to read on your travels. But what should you read if Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ is not quite your cup of tea? Here’s a range of novels that will take you the length and breadth of Ireland, and give you a real taste of life over the years in this country filled with passion and history.

‘The Mammy’ by Brendan O’Carroll

If you want to know more about Dublin in the 1960’s, then this story of widow Agnes Browne and her seven children will do it. This is working-class Ireland with all its squalor, laughter and alcoholic fathers, and the best news is that the book is the first of a trilogy. The next time you are approached by a cheeky Dublin lad (and there are many!), you may find yourself thinking back to Agnes and her brood.

‘Little Criminals’ by Gene Kerrigan

And now to Dublin in contemporary times. The country has had its economic miracle and everyone is an entrepreneur, even the criminals. Frankie Crowe has a scheme to make himself some money, planning to kidnap a wealthy banker and set himself up for life. While this could be just a cops and robbers novel, Kerrigan does much to portray the underbelly of Dublin life, and the social changes that have taken place over recent years.

‘Juno and Juliet’ by Julian Gough

If you decide to head to Galway (and I’d highly encourage you to do so), then this novel is one of the few that is set there. This story of identical twins during their first year at university sees them adjusting to life in the city, drinking in the bars and attending classes from time to time. It’s a coming of age story in which Galway itself is one of the main characters.

‘The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’ by Sebastian Barry

The tensions surrounding the Irish struggle for independence lie at the heart of this novel set in the town of Sligo in Ireland’s north-west. Unable to find work, Eneas joins the British-led police force the Royal Irish Constabulary, and in the process labels himself a traitor. As a marked man he goes on the run, and while the novel follows Eneas from country to country, he sneaks back to Sligo when he can. A compelling look at 20th Century Ireland, through a character who has become a victim of his country’s fight to exist.

‘Pomegranate Soup’ by Marsha Mehran

In this novel we see a different kind of migration — the story of three Iranian sisters who move to an Irish village in the 1980’s. It’s not often you get a food-lit story set in Ireland, but Pomegranate Soup is exactly that, with its celebration of Persian cuisine. Unsurprisingly the village residents take a while to adapt to this foreign influence in one of their local cafes, and despite the novel’s focus on a different culture, it provides plenty of detail of Irish life and landscape for those trying to learn more about the country.

There are many stereotypes about the Irish, but as a traveler you have the opportunity to reach beyond the surface of Irish culture and see what lies beneath. Reading books set in Ireland will help you do that, revealing details of Irish streets and cities, hopes and history – and when you visit the places mentioned, you will feel as if you know it just that little bit better than if you had arrived a stranger.

Books Set in France – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

So you are about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to one of the most-loved countries in the world — France! You have been practicing your ‘bonjours‘ and your ‘mercis‘, and studying maps of Paris to work out how to get around, but there is one more thing you can do to make sure your trip is extra special. And that is to immerse yourself in French life by reading some books set in France.

Reading novels set in Paris or the French countryside will give you an insight into the country which is impossible to get from the guide books. As the characters walk along the Seine or drink their coffee at a table on the Parisian pavement, it will fill you with anticipation to do the same — making the experience so much sweeter when you finally get to do it yourself. If the novel is set in the past, you will have more appreciation for France’s history, bringing many of the places and old buildings alive when you visit them on your trip. And if the novel is set in the present day, there’s nothing more fun than trying to find the streets, bars and restaurants that might be mentioned in the story.

So what books should you read? Here is a selection of five novels which do a great job in bringing France to life, even before you set foot on that plane.

‘Foreign Tongue’ by Vanina Marsot

Nursing a broken heart, Anna moves to Paris from Los Angeles. She begins working as the translator of a cryptic erotic novel and of course, finds herself some romance. The book is a love-letter to the city, with plenty of wanderings through the streets as well as descriptions of French life, food and cafes.

‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

History, mystery, romance and intrigue intertwine in this novel set in post-Napoleonic Paris. It is 1815 and a young Englishman travels to Paris to take up a position at the renowned Jardin des Plantes. But when the collection of rare coral specimens he is carrying is stolen by a beautiful woman, he is drawn into a plot involving revolutionaries, spies and the intelligentsia. Victorian Paris comes alive in this novel, which will surely enhance any present day visit to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden.

‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Susan Vreeland

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is a famous painting depicting a group of Parisians enjoying lunch on the terrace of a restaurant on the Seine. In this novel Vreeland tells the story of those in the painting and how they came to be there. It is a glorious look at Paris at the time of the Impressionists, and you can still eat at the restaurant itself today.

‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ by Joanne Harris

Now we move out of Paris and into the Loire Valley with this novel by Harris that takes us to a village occupied by the Germans in WWII. The book moves between WWII and the present day, giving us an insight into the long-term effects the Nazi occupation had on the French people. And as it is a book by Joanne Harris, there is a of course lots of time spent exploring French food!

‘The Matchmaker of Perigord’ by Julia Stuart

We finish up with something fun and quirky, in a fictional village in France’s south-west. Amour-Sur-Belle might not be a real place, but it gives a taste of some of the declining villages of rural France. Here, the town barber decides to reinvent himself as a match-maker, quite a task when there are only 33 residents to match up. Filled with delightful characters and semi-ridiculous situations, this novel should just leave you giggling and enjoying the French temperament.

So if you have your tickets booked for Charles de Gaulle airport or you just WISH you had a holiday planned for France, try the books above to immerse yourself in a bit of French life and culture. And if you find yourself enjoying them…well, there’s plenty more to explore…Bon Voyage!

Books Set in Spain – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

If you are planning a trip to Spain, you might be thinking it is all about the sun, sand and Sangria.

That is the side of Spain that is often portrayed in the popular media, but if you’d like to know a little bit more about the country you are traveling to then it might be time to turn to some books set in Spain that delve into Spanish life and tell us something of the country’s difficult history.

It has not been such a long time since Spain was divided by a bitter civil war and the subsequent years of fascism. It wasn’t until General Francisco Franco died in 1975 after a forty year reign, that the country was able to embark on becoming the democratic country it is today.

You can find out what it was like for Spaniards in those years by reading the following novels.

‘Guernica’ by Dave Boling

The town of Guernica is in the Basque region of northern Spain. In 1937 hundreds of residents were killed when the town was bombed by German and Italian war planes. This inspired Pablo Picasso to create a painting of the event — the horror of the images helping to bring attention to the Spanish Civil War. This novel is the story of that painting and the people depicted in it We become immersed in the lives of the Ansogegui family in the lead up to the war, as well as the devastating years of the war itself — following them as they try to come to terms with the impact the conflict has on themselves and their loved ones. If you’d like to know more about the Basque people and this particular slice of history, then this novel is ideal.

‘The Time of the Doves’ by Merce Rodoreda

Set in Barcelona before, during and after the Civil War, this novel follows the life of Natalia through her suffering and depression. It may be a tear-jerker, but it is also a tale of hope and survival. And when you go to Barcelona, you can visit La Placa Del Diamant, the original Catalan title of the novel, and a crucial location in the novel.

‘A Manuscript of Ashes’ by Antonio Munoz Molina

This novel begins during the latter years of Franco’s reign, in the late 1960’s. Minaya is a university student who has been imprisoned for his role in a demonstration. He flees to the countryside to work on his thesis and becomes absorbed in a story from the past. It’s a mystery, a love story, and a portrayal of the complexities and tumult of the Civil War.

‘Winter in Madrid’ by C.J. Sansom

As the title suggests, the location of this novel is the Spanish capital. Englishman Harry Brett has been sent to Madrid by the British Secret Service to spy on an old friend. It is 1940, and Harry is soon immersed in the political complexities of post-Civil War Spain. There is also of course, a love story or two…

‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop

This novel is a curious mix of chick-lit and historical fiction. And while the style of the writing could be considered ‘beach read’, the subject matter is not. Told in a mix of past and present, the novel gives a frightening portrayal of the war in the city of Granada. It shows how civil war pits neighbors and even brothers against each other, while the chaos that follow destroys the dreams and relationships of those who are left behind. If you are planning on visiting Granada, then this book is a must.

By all means enjoy the fantastic lifestyle and culture that you will experience on a trip to Spain today, but if you want to really understand the people that you meet on your journey, then any of these books will help you to do that. Immersing yourself in the history of a city or country does much to enhance your travels, so why not read these novels and take that first step. And once you have done that, there are plenty of more books set in Spain to explore….