Tomorrow, I’m off to Milan on the train. The journey takes a little over three hours, just long enough to absorb a novel. I want to read something which will transport me in spirit as I ride the Swiss railway system south. Which to choose? So many options!

Here are three books set in Italy I can wholeheartedly recommend. Let’s start in the south:

Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri

Inspector Montalbano is a wonderful character, with a problematic personal life, a dry sense of humour and an appreciation of the finer things in life. A minor car accident leads him to discover the body of a young woman, suffocated in her bed.

As he pursues suspects and tracks connections, he suffers his colleagues and enjoys Sicilian cuisine. Perfectly plotted and populated like every other book in the series, the novel draws you into a world so vivid you don’t want to leave. Thankfully, you don’t have to. Each of Camilleri’s book is a standalone and every single one is an adventure.

From Sicily to Naples, the most surprising of cities.

My Beautiful Friend by Elena Ferrante

On the surface, this is a coming-of-age novel set in the late 1950s in a poor, violent suburb of Naples. Yet it has depths of love, beauty, politics, social observation, spite, generosity and anger all rendered in sparkling prose.
Passions and dramas abound on the small stage of their little community, set against a greater backdrop of the recent war, political extremism and the importance of having the right connections.

Ferrante is an extraordinary writer, able to observe the smallest details in grains of sand, then rush you through a scene such as the fireworks on New Year’s Eve so you feel exhilarated and unnerved.

Moving north, a recent bestseller I adored:

Still Life by Sarah Winman

If your appreciation of Europe includes its history and art, this achingly lovely book is right up your strada. Art historian Evelyn encounters Private Ulysses Temper in the battered region of Tuscany at the end of WWII.

A meeting, connection and parting, all in one night. Neither will forget the other. Their lives continue in England, for better and for worse, as the horrors of war become a memory. In an odd happenstance, Ulysses inherits a property in Florence.

It takes courage to up sticks and relocate a mismatched family to a foreign country. But Florence and its art, people, history and passions become home. My favourite book of this year.

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