A novel set in Italy is a good way of easing yourself into the holiday mood. From literary evocations of past times to modern romances, Italy has inspired a vast quantity of fiction. Our favourites are presented below.
Memoirs of Hadrian – Marguerite Yourcenar
‘I have formed a project for telling you about my life,’ writes the Emperor Hadrian to the young Marcus Aurelius. This classic of historical fiction reflects on Hadrian’s life, empire and philosophy. Read more.
Book locations to visit:
> Tivoli – Villa Adriana, or Hadrian’s Villa, close to Tivoli, is a monument to the power, wealth and tastes of this fascinating emperor.
I, Claudius – Robert Graves
The greatest literary reconstruction of ancient Rome. Ambition, deceit, plotting … Graves reconstructs an imperial Rome ripe with decadence and rotten with greed, corruption and ambition. The reigns of the first Caesars are viewed through the eyes of the ‘fool’ Claudius. Overlooked and scorned by his relatives, the studious republican records his life on the fringes of palace circles, his ‘insider’ view of the dangerous existence at the top of Roman society.The huge cast of characters and their complicated relationships are confusing; this is a book to read with concentration and without distractions.
Book locations to visit:
> Rome – this book, and its sequel ‘Claudius the God’ bring to life the monuments of ancient Rome. On the Celian Hill (Celio) you can see remains of the temple built to honour the deified Claudius by his widow and his heir Nero.
Buy now from Amazon.co.uk
The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Il Gattopardo isa skilful account of Sicily, politics and aristocracy at the time of Italy’s unification. The principal character, a cynical noble, observes the paradoxical change and inertia of his times, while offering weary comment on the Sicilian character. Lampedusa was from the same aristocratic background as his characters, and expounds convincingly and elegantly upon his theme. In the sixties, the story was beautifully and lovingly filmed by Luchino Visconti, who knew a thing or two himself about Italy’s faded aristocracy. The film, featuring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon, has been expertly remastered and is available on DVD (apparently only in Italy, though, so buy it during your trip).
> Buy The Leopard (Everyman’s Library Classics) from Amazon.co.uk.
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