What is the best-known book set in Italy?

See note on methodology

I have to be honest with you. I felt I could get away with disqualifying the most-widely owned book which has been tagged “France” by the users of Goodreads and LibraryThing on the basis that, as well as being utter tosh, not all that much of it is set in France. Unfortunately, the top-ranked book, by users on both LT and GR, which is tagged “Italy” by those users is, in fact, mostly set there (apart from some initial throat-clearing). So although it is even worse rubbish than The Da Vinci Code, I fear we have to face the fact that the best-known book set in Italy is, like it or not:

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown

If your brain understandably recoils from that finding, I can offer you some other possibilities. The second-placed book on LT set in Italy (mostly on a small island off the coast, during the Second World War) is some way behind on LT, and deals with actual Italians only in rather stereotyped fashion, the emphasis mainly being on the American main characters. I still like it though. It is:

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Next up on both systems is a love story set (mostly) in a northern Italian city that somehow fails to mention that city’s most famous landmark, its massive huge Roman amphitheatre. The plot depends on some implausibly convenient logistical and pharmaceutical coincidences. But it remains ever popular, and I have to admit it’s still a favourite of mine. Italians will not really recognise the depiction of their country, but it is:

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

The next-ranked book, on both systems, is a non-fiction voyage of self-discovery which is only partly set in Italy. My friend Andy really hated it, and having read (and listened to) his views on the subject, I have no inclination to try it for myself. But it obviously works for some people. It is:

Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m glad to say that on LibraryThing at least, the next-ranked book is a work of non-fiction which draws universal lessons from (then-)recent political events, mainly (though not entirely) in Italy. It’s also mercifully short and well worth reading. It is a decent contender for the best-known book set in Italy written in Italian by an actual Italian writer. It is:

Il Principe/The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli

The top-ranked work of fiction which is set in Italy and written in Italian by an actual Italian writer on Goodreads is another one I very much like, The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. A Farewell To Arms ranks ahead of it on both GR and LT, and GR readers are also more likely to own Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I disqualify a number of other books which are frequently tagged “Italy” on both systems due to an insufficiently Italian setting: The Godfather is mainly set in America, and Dante’s Inferno is almost entirely set in Hell.

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1 Response to What is the best-known book set in Italy?

  1. nwhyte says:

    There’s a real dearth of informed commentary on Cyprus, especially the Turkish Cypriots. Basically it means that the pro-solution and vaguely leftist CTP get back into power, so probably it is good news.

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