Good books set in Switzerland or Northern Italy?
May 26, 2019 7:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm headed to Switzerland and Northern Italy this summer and would love recommendations for books (fiction or non-fiction) set in those areas. Mostly interested in books that really make use of the setting, be it historical or modern-day. Bonus points if it involves art, history, or religion. Thanks!
posted by egeanin to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Stendahl's The Charterhouse of Parma is set at Lake Como and in Parma.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:47 PM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not a whole book, but the fifth walk in Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker is a famous and delightful account of his time visiting an island in a lake in Switzerland that Sebald later visited too. IIRC, Rousseau's use of the word 'romantic' there led one critic to suggest it was a possible origin for the name given to the Romantic movement in general--I don't think that was a solid point, but Rousseau did have an influence, and it might be fun to imagine if you're in the area.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:12 PM on May 26, 2019

I read Schiller's William Tell before going to Switzerland. I can't say it really affected my experience, but it's a pleasant enough read.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:44 PM on May 26, 2019

La Place de la Concorde Suisse by John McPhee is about the Swiss Army, and is a great read like any McPhee.
posted by lhputtgrass at 10:01 PM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Almost the entirety of The Magic Mountain is set in Davos.
posted by praemunire at 10:23 PM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

A big chunk of Tim Powers' unconventional vampire novel The Stress of Her Regard is set in Geneva and later on in several locations in North Italy as it follows Lord Byron and the Shelleys. Frankenstein itself is set around Geneva, too.
posted by sukeban at 11:15 PM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by brujita at 12:50 AM on May 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Swiss novels (as opposed to works about Switzerland by other nationalities) I would recommend are by the three great Swiss novelists:

Max Frisch: Man in the Holocene
Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz: When the Mountain Fell
Robert Walser: The Walk

Frisch and Walser wrote better books but these are the ones that make most use of Swiss settings
posted by TheRaven at 1:18 AM on May 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

There's a Daphne du Maurier story, "Monte Verità," about the famed utopian community of the same name. It's in Ascona, on lake Maggiore.
posted by Morpeth at 3:07 AM on May 27, 2019

Michael Moorcock's The City in the Autumn Stars
posted by plep at 8:22 AM on May 27, 2019

the biggie in this sphere is Manzoni's i Promessi Sposi, considered a foundational work of Italian literature. It takes place in 17th century Lombardy. I myself cannot get through it despite numerous attempts and a variety of reasons that I should. Good luck!
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:15 PM on May 27, 2019

A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement
posted by aniola at 2:08 PM on May 27, 2019

The Eiger Sanction
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:59 AM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Friedrich Dürrenmatt was an interesting left-wing Swiss author with a taste for the macabre. He wrote a couple of philosophical detective novels set in Switzerland, often collected as The Inspector Barlach Mysteries as well as various other novels and plays, some of which are on Amazon.

Cause For Alarm is one of Eric Ambler’s classic spy novels and is set across northern Italy under the fascists. It’s very critical of the fascist state and has sympathetic communist and socialist characters.

Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms is set in northeastern Italy, near the border with Austria, and the final part of the book takes place in Lago Maggiore and Switzerland. (Many of his early short stories are set in one or other of the countries, as well.)

If you’re going to read Max Frisch, recommended in a previous comment and a contemporary of Dürrenmatt in the Gruppe Olten, be warned that many of his books are a bit dark. In particular, I found Homo Faber to be far from a laugh riot.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:28 AM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wouldn’t say that it heavily made use of the setting, but Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose is set in a monastery in Northern Italy and otherwise ticks your art, history and religion boxes.

Jacques Chessex is a more contemporary Swiss author. He won the Prix Goncourt for The Tyrant, which I haven’t read. He also wrote the short but very atmospheric The Vampire of Ropraz, set in rural Switzerland in 1903 and very grounded in a sense of place.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:42 AM on May 28, 2019

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