Where I Live Linky

Where I Live: Books

7 Comments 18 June 2013

Lord of the Rings

This one is straight out of Lord of the Rings.

One of my favourite moments in life is that space between opening a novel and discovering yourself in another country, sliding from your comfortable sofa with your feet tucked up underneath you, to a new place, the landscape forming around you as you walk along with your protagonist.

Anticipation at the book’s threshold: The place where you stand on the edge and gaze in, assessing. The waiting breath and the question, will this be a good book? Will I make excuses to stop for lunch half an hour early?

Books Where I Live. I could write about Novels Set in Essex. Did you know The Turn of the Screw was set in Essex? I didn’t. I thought it was Sussex, I suppose because that’s where Henry James lived for a while. (No I wasn’t paying attention to that part like I should have been.) Or I could write about Novels Set in Pubs. There’s a lot of time spent in dark little pubs in the beginning of Treasure Island and although I can easily imagine those scenes now that I’ve been in plenty of dark little pubs, the pub I live in isn’t really pub-like anymore (apart from the fuse box). I would consider myself cheating if I went down that route for this themed post.

Instead, I decided on a more general approach: Novels set in England. I know! A million to choose from, but because I cannot deny the idealist within me (in matters of literature, she perfectly eclipses the disgruntled cynic and is much nicer to live with) I must today focus on the idyllic scenes of even the most depressing novels (if you love Tess of the d’Urbervilles or The Go-Between, my sympathies; I can assure you there are happier novels in the English canon for you to read.).

When I studied English novels and poems in English Literature at university, I built their landscapes in my mind before I ever landed at Heathrow–before I ever flew over the green and pleasant land peering down through wisps of clouds at the odd shaped fields, embroidered with hedgerows, looking at the miniature countryside of Miss Bennet, Lady Chatterley and lonely poets. And on landing and touring (walking the landscapes for real!), seeing the anonymous landmarks that lived like monuments in my mind—the old yew in a church yard, lichen covered stone walls arcing over steep hills, a row of willows trailing their fingers in a clear stream, were all part of the backdrop to the stories I read growing up in the American Midwest.

How…syrupy. But I won’t apologise. How sparkling and glorious to be standing on a hillside in a hay meadow, gazing down at the old mill, filling my lungs with the air of costume drama. I really want to grate the image for you, to scratch some part of the golden sheen off that surface so you can see what really lies beneath, but I’m afraid this will have to do. This is no veneer, this is real. It is a real amalgam of my romantic literature student’s imagination and the reality before me. How lucky I am to be able to walk through the backdrop of the annotated novels on my shelves!

(Side note: Please don’t call these landscapes bucolic. I hate that word. It sounds like a lung disease. It needs to disappear from the English language because it clashes so offensively against what it is trying to describe.)

Now, when I read an English classic, I can see first hand what the writers saw when they brought together a story and a setting. Do I experience the novel any differently? Perhaps my experience has become less about the thrill of experiencing new places and more about the deeper understanding of what it means to walk into the side entrance of a stately home, feeling the cool air rise up from the stone floor and smell the sweet mustiness, or what it means to walk through a beech forest and take shelter from the misty rain in the ruins of an old Abbey.

What about you, readers? Do you have any books that perfectly describe where you live or that give you a different angle, a different way of seeing where you live?

Tell me about them in the comments below, or link up!

(And guess what! Next Tuesday is another prize giveaway on the blog—this one will be open for everyone who leaves a comment or links up a post.)


Your Comments

7 Comments so far

  1. Tammy says:

    Towards the end of my stay in England, I re-read “Great Expectations”. I loved it in high school, and it was so much more meaningful after I’d been to several of the locations in which it was set. I could picture it so clearly because I knew what it looked like … at least the modern version.

    I’ve only read a couple books set in my home town. There simply aren’t that many, which is odd considering we are in the top 10 in size in the whole big country. Now I have a new quest: to find a good novel set here!

  2. I’ve always rather liked the word ‘bucolic.’ Makes me think of The Haywain, and Mill on the Floss

  3. Mammasaurus says:

    Ooo now I need to think about that and get back to you!

    (ps. 3 more sleeps!)

  4. iyas says:

    The only book set here that I am aware of is the London Borough guide to Richmond, which gives Twickenham a passing nod. And if silent nods could have a pejorative tone, then this nod, passing as it is, would very clearly have it. You’d have thought that the centre of the rugby world would merit some kind of a mention. Maybe it does, but it’s probably not a mention that makes it into sobriety, and certainly not into books read in ‘decent’ society!

    And I’m sorry, but the English canon (and more specifically the classical one) does have more tragedy than comedy. I blame the weather. In fact, it probably has happy novels in direct proportion to the number of sunny days a year that this country gets. Not many, but always a pleasant surprise when you find them.

  5. Mine would have to be The Great Gatsby as it’s based on where I currently live (see recent post) http://www.nappyvalleygirl.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-gatsby-connection.html

    I’ve also read tonnes of New York novels since living here – they mean so much more to me now that I know the city.

  6. Emma says:

    @Iyas, how about a History of Eel Pie Island book… But you are right, that might be it (we hail from those parts too!)… 😀 Lovely writing Michelle,I must think long and hard about books involving Bavaria, of which I suspect there are many, but they might all involve the same subject!! :/

    • iyas says:

      Yup – there’s a story or two to tell about that! If it’s not written, it should be. Fact would likely be more rivetting than fiction on that topic…

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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