A Sense of Place in Fiction: Five of the Best

Following on from last week’s post on creating a sense of place in fiction, I felt the urge to recommend five of my favourite novels that combine evocative descriptions with involving plots:

  • The Sea House by Esther Freud. For me reading this book was like diving under water and immersing myself in another world. The story is dual-stranded and runs in both contemporary and mid-twentieth century coastal Suffolk. The locations come across vividly; you’re instantly fixed in another time and place. I love the way Freud plunges you straight into complex situations without preamble, leaving you to find your depth and draw your own conclusions. 
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I love the creation of the castle itself, its rooms and divisions, its lack of comfort and yet the warmth of the family bonds it houses, which are put to the test in this coming of age story.
  • Body Surfing by Anita Shreve. This book stays with me for its spare and wonderfully effective descriptions of oceanfront New Hampshire, as well as its insight into the complex elements that go to make up human relationships.
  • Summertime by Raffaella Barker. I found this book laugh-out-loud funny, and the descriptions of the Norfolk countryside in the height of summer, as well as its cast of eccentric characters, are hugely enjoyable.
  • The Mathematics of Love by Emma Darwin. I love this book for its evocation of 1970s Suffolk, the way it conjures up the experience of adolescence, and its 19thcentury love story. It’s a novel that doesn’t take any shortcuts but shows human relationships in all their messy complexity.
For those who are interested in writers’ methods and habits (or who, like me, simply enjoy looking inside other people’s houses…) here’s a video featuring Esther Freud in what looks like a very nice place to work:
And also a more in-depth British Council interview here, discussing Freud’s journey as a writer.
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