Longer, place-oriented fruitcake books. Panforte?
April 25, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Looking for fruitcake books strongly rooted in a sense of place.

I have a few days next month to spend wandering through cafés and indulging myself in some dense reading. I read quickly and as a result am a fan of long, involved novels that suck readers in. I particularly like works that are embedded in a location — either real, as in Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet in Egypt or Norman Rush's Mating and Mortals, both in Botswana — or fake/unnamed, as in Gabriel García Márquez's Lovein the Time of Cholera in what some assume to be Cartagena or Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow in Abruria (similar to much of East Africa at various points throughout history). I've read almost everything by Paul Theroux and James Michener, so unfortunately they're both out.

On my list right now (thanks to previous questions/answers) are: What else should I be reading this spring?
posted by rebekah to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want it to be set in a real place?

I've always heard Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series described this way. (Also have heard that the first two books are good and the last one is not so much.) They're fantasy books set in a castle and the books evoke a strong sense of place about the castle.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:32 PM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: Shadow Of The Wind has some solid post-war Barcelona going on.
posted by the latin mouse at 3:43 PM on April 25, 2011

You want long? Will 1,221 pages of realistically grimy Victorian England satisfy you? Then try (warning: spoilers ahoy!) The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. It's a mystery novel, in which the protagonist is trying to figure out what happened to his inheritance. He's broke and getting a bit desperate, trying to figure out who is telling the truth, who is merely confused, and who is lying. Luckily for the reader, his progress is reflected in an updated family tree in each section of the novel - you will need it!
posted by Quietgal at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2011

A couple of science fiction books come to mind: Geoff Ryman's Air and Ian McDonald's wonderful The Dervish House.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:46 PM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: How about some of these incredible books (some of them reflect alternatively-imagined perspectives of particular places, but I'd say the books are firmly rooted in those imagined-places):

Robert Coover (Pinocchio in Venice), Halldor Laxness (Independent People), Yoko Tawada (The Naked Eye), Dorota Maslowska (Snow White Russian Red), Michael Bulgakov (Master and Margarita), John Hawkes (The Blood Oranges), Raymond Queneau (Zazie in the Metro), Vladimir Voinovich (Monumental Propaganda), John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:01 PM on April 25, 2011

Ahem, I managed to miss the request for more lengthy books... that list had a wide mix of lengths. However, most of the shorter ones are quite dense, despite their modest size, so they may still work.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:05 PM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: The Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso
posted by Duffington at 5:13 PM on April 25, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which is mentioned in the previous thread as well. It's about the Reformation in England, as told through the point of view of Thomas Cromwell. It draws Henry VIII's England very vividly; it is as much about England's uneasy transformation into a modern nation as it is about anything else. I have been assured by a knowledgeable friend that Mantel gets her history pretty much right, as well. (As a note of caution, Cromwell is portrayed as an essentially sympathetic figure, so if you have big ideological problems with that, this is probably not the book for you.)

I very often recommend War and Peace, which may be justifiably called the best novel ever written. The whole thing takes place in various parts of Russia in the first decades of the 19th century, and Tolstoy is one of those writers who makes scenes so real, so alive, you can taste them. If you only read one book this spring, it should be this one.
posted by Commander Rachek at 6:04 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The first Bryant and May novel, Full Dark House, is really rooted in London. I've read tons of books set there but never really felt a sense of London so much before (nor understood the Blitz so well). The second book (The Water Room) is far superior, in my opinion, and is more neighborhoody and less cityish, but still pretty rooted. Dense and full of wonderful and weird bits? Oh yes. Also some horrible bits, so be warned. Christopher Fowler is the author. I'm not really into mysteries, but these are great.
posted by wintersweet at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2011

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
posted by smoke at 6:49 PM on April 25, 2011

A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys. Long, dense, amazing, and totally rooted in place.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:26 PM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: Olivia Manning's Balkan Trllogy and Levant Trilogy.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:16 AM on April 26, 2011

Best answer: The Black Lamb and the Grey Falcon by Rebecca West is an account of her travels in Yugoslavia/the Balkans just prior to WWII. It's described as being "Part travelogue, part history, part love letter on a thousand-page scale".
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:38 AM on April 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, all! In case anyone's curious, in addition to the best answers marked above, I've also ended up with:

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
Mila 18 by Leon Uris
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
posted by rebekah at 1:35 PM on April 29, 2011

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