Lit Lists #2 – 5 brilliant books set in Venice

In Feb I started a new feature – Lit Lists – for a bit of fun with books.

* Pick a keyword and then find a number, 5 or 10 say, of books that link to it in any way – e.g. they are either about or feature that word, or have it or a variant in their titles;
* List and introduce the books.
* That’s all there is to it apart from having fun. If you want to have a go, feel free!

My first list was of Monkey Books. For my second list, my keyword this time is …


…which gives me masses of scope, as it’s a city I loved when we visited in 2005 and a location that I adore in books.   The picture, left, was drawn by my daughter (who had just turned five), after experiencing crossing the canal on a traghetto ferry gondola.  For a five year old she nailed the perspective didn’t she!

1. The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato, which I reviewed here. This was Marina’s first novel and follows the story of a newly single artist going to Venice to learn the skills of her ancestors, and in a historical strand we hear the ancestor’s story of how he escaped the guilds to go an make the mirrors at Versailles. It was a great read and Marina herself is a real character as she’s been to Abingdon twice now with her books – the third must be due soon I hope.

2. Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon. This is the first of nineteen novels (at current count) featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti who has to solve the murder of a Maestro at Venice’s opera house. I always get the feeling that life in Italy’s cities is full of bureaucracy and petty battles between all involved in government. You either embrace it or try to ignore it – Brunetti does the latter and it is his ambivalence and refusal to join in office politics rather than kicking against the system that makes him such a refreshing maverick detective!

3. Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers, in which a spinster, Miss Garnet goes to Venice on an extended holiday after the death of a friend. There she falls in love with an angel in a Raphael painting, and undergoes a series of epiphanies, discovering a new side to herself as she encounters an Italian art historian Carlo … Alongside Miss Garnet’s awakening, Vickers tells the story behind the painting which is a scene from the Book of Tobit which has many parallels with Miss Garnet’s situation.  It’s a subtle novel, and I really enjoyed it.

4. The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedgwick, which I reviewed here. Sedgwick is possibly my favourite YA author and this was the first book I read by him. It’s set at the end of the 18thC during Carnevale (approaching Lent) and features proper vampires – the real monstrous ones of Eastern European tradition. It’s a great adventure, and the dankness of Venice in winter really comes through.

5. The Lying Tongue by Andrew Wilson.  Twists and more twists, this literary page-turner starts off innocently, when young Adam takes a job in Venice as assistant to a reclusive writer. However, he’s drawn in by his employer, wanting to uncover his life-story and there the plot thickens!The reader is wrong-footed at every turn and the result is a literary mystery of the highest order which is reminiscent of both the play/film Sleuth and the novels of Patricia Highsmith. In fact, Wilson has written a well-received biography of Highsmith called Beautiful Shadow which is in my TBR pile somewhere.

Rather than stretch the list to ten, I decided to stick with 5 books that I’d read and enjoyed, but there are many others set in Venice including the following in my TBR piles:

Can you recommend any more?


10 thoughts on “Lit Lists #2 – 5 brilliant books set in Venice

  1. I love your little girl’s picture!
    My children are grown-up now and still remember that special experience of travelling on the Venice ferry.
    Thank you for the review on Camilleri which has prompted me to try his later novels.
    Back to Venice – I followed Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series in the 90’s and thought the background information authentic and the characters believable e.g. Dead Lagoon.
    John Berendt gives a portrait of Venice at the time of the Fenice Opera House fire in The City of Falling Angels, which I enjoyed as an informative non-fiction account whilst he was a guest in residence.
    Now retired, I’m trying to catch up with the current Italian scene through my reading of crime novels, thrillers and non-fiction.

    • Thank you Linda. There are lots of good translated Italian writers and book set in Italy now aren’t there.

      I’ve a couple set in Florence by Michele Giuttari in my TBR pile, plus a couple of classics – The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia and That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda. However I’ve not read any of them yet!

  2. Great idea! I love Venice; have been twice and hope to go again, perhaps later this year. I’ve got a whole section on my blog devoted to books set in Venice — see here:

    My favourite Venice book, however, is Miss Garnet’s Angel. Isn’t that just the most amazing gem of a book?

    You might also be interested in Jeff Cotton’s fabulous website Fictional Cities. He is incredibly passionate about Venice and has a rather exhuastive list of books set in the city here:

    • Wow – I shall be over for a look soon, and at Jeff Cotton’s website – thanks for the links.

      I agree Miss Garnet’s Angel was rather special.

  3. Two of my favourites are set in Venice- Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion and Italo Calvino’s Invisbile Cities. Both are vivid, imaginative and playful- great fun!

    • I’ve been meaning to read Calvino for ages – it goes on the wishlist. thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Kim’s list reminds me of Robert Dessaix’ s Night Letters. Such a memorable book. Read on a Snowy Mountains walking holiday and found it just so special. Great recommendation.

    And Miss Garnet’s Angel is superb.

  5. Just found your website – fabulous thank you! I read everything I can get hold of about Venice – so this post has been extra special. Am off on an on-line shopping spree as I doubt a couple of these will be available in Oz. I loved Miss Garnet’s Angel. Ciao for now Francesca

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