Monday, October 29, 2018

Literary Landscapes - John Sutherland general editor

Literary Landscapes: Charting the real life settings of the world's favourite fiction - I couldn't resist this book when I was offered it, in fact it sounded so good I was even willing to commit to a blog tour date to get my hands on it.

There were two reasons I thought it sounded to good to miss, one is that I'll look at anything with a John Sutherland's name on it, a policy which has never yet led to disappointment with a book. The other is that I love a story with a strong sense of place. Any book that explores the geography of classic literature is going to appeal to me.

In this case there are 73 different books, along with their landscapes, to take a close look at, divided into 4 sub sections. There's Romantic Prospects which starts with Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' (it's a shame nobody wanted to tackle Sir Walter Scott, or Maria Edgeworth, but you can't have everything) and goes up to 1914. Mapping Modernism covers 1915 to 1945, Postwar Panoramas takes us from 1946 to 1974, and Contemporary Geographies takes us up to 2017 - though it's interesting to note that a few of the books in this chapter are set in the past.

Four of the chosen books are set in New York ('The Age of Innocence', 'The Great Gatsby', 'Bright Lights, Big City', and Francis Spufford's 'Golden Hill), and a few in London, so there's the added interest of being able to examine different people's version of the same places.

It's definitely a book for dipping in and out of, I found I started with the books I knew, then the places, and then noticed that the contributiors are not mentioned at the end of each essay. Instead they and their contributions are listed at the end, which sent me back to see what specific writers had to say about their chosen books. Robert Macfarlane almost makes me want to read Hemingway. Almost - and there are other books I'm now far more interested, and am much more likely to read.

And that's the best thing about this book, it comes into its own when novels you're not particularly familiar with are being discussed. The average essay length is two pages, with a few notes and anecdotes added in the margins, some are a little longer. The whole thing is well illustrated with maps, photographs, and other images which help set the scene for the time and place of the work under discussion.

For the books you know and love it's not quite enough - I'd have been quite happy if the whole thing was dedicated to L. M. Montgomery's Prince Edward Island, and the other bits of Canada she happens to mention, or indeed to the landscapes of R. L. Stevenson's Scotland in 'Kidnapped'. For the books you don't already love it's more than enough space to spark a readers enthusiasm, and provide useful context and insight for whatever is under discussion.

It's a beautiful book, obviously perfect Christmas present material for the readers in your life, or as an indulgence to buy yourself. If it's the latter, it's easy to justify as a work of reference that will undoubtedly enrich your understanding of an eclectic range of authors and their novels. There are also a couple of days left to try and win a copy - and that's most definitely worth having a go at.

Follow @modernbooks and tweet your own favourite #LiteraryLandscape for a chance to win a copy of Literary Landscapes. Closes 31st October 2018. 


  1. I like the concept of the book and wonder if Anthony Trollope is included, and P.G. Wodehouse.

  2. I'll need to check when I get home, but I don't think either are in this book. Wodehouse's London, or New York, would be interesting though. I read a really good article somewhere (Slightly Foxed?) about Trollope's Ireland too, but I think both are more interested in character than place so the surroundings don't resonate in the same way that say the Hghlands do in Kidnapped.