Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 11, 2017

A meme: Novels with Place Names

Yesterday when Sue at Whispering Gums published her Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie novels titled with place names, she began by saying that she got the idea from  Tony (from Tony’s Book World)’s post on novels with city or town names in their titles.

I had a little rush of blood to the head and suggested that it would make a good meme.

Well, with Sue’s encouragement, here goes with the first meme I’ve ever hosted here at ANZ LitLovers.

As you can see at Tony’s blog, he got things started with these places:

  • Gilead, Havana, Petersburg, Peckham Rye, Brooklyn, Middlemarch, Wellville, Sparta, Winesburg and London

At Sue’s blog, she refined it to Australian books that have cities and towns in the title:

  • Alice Springs, Carpentaria, Castlemaine, Mullumbimby, Surfers Paradise and Sydney.

So these are my rules for the meme:

  1. Name four novels with the name of a town, a city or a village in the title. Countries or states or counties don’t count.  (I was going to make it five, but that’s too hard!)
  2. You can have just one fictional place name.
  3. You must have read (and ideally, reviewed) the books you choose.
  4. They must all be from the same country, or if that’s too hard, the same continent or region (e.g. from Africa, from Asia, from the EU, from the British Isles, from the former Soviet Union, Latin American etc).

So, to get you started, here’s mine:

My novels have Russian place names:

Petersburg by Andrei Bely, translated by John Elsworth: I loved this novel.  I read it before we visited Russia in 2012, and it was sheer magic to walk the streets of St Petersburg with images from this novel in my head.  First published in 1916, Petersburg is set in the pre-revolutionary fervour of the early 20th century and the plot revolves around a young man who’s become mixed up with radical elements at university and although he doesn’t know it at first, he has been entrusted with a bomb – to kill his own father, who’s a powerful bureaucrat in 1905 Petersburg.  So the theme of turmoil is both personal and political.  Don’t take my word for how good it is: Vladimir Nabokov said it is one of the ‘four greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose’.

Then a more recent novel, Moscow in the 1930s, a novel from the Archives, by Natalia Gromova,translated by Christopher Culver.  It’s a book from the post-Soviet period, and it resurrects the atmosphere of Moscow in the Stalinist period when authors and poets had to be so very careful about what they wrote.  I learned the names of some famous Russian poets whose work was suppressed, and although I had a bit  of difficulty with the book, it contributed to my understanding of the period in the same way that Julian Barnes showed Shostakovich’s struggle to be creative at a time of repression in The Noise of Time.

Stu at Winston’s Dad recommended The New Moscow Philosophy by Vyacheslav Pyetsukh, translated by Krystyna A Steiger.  It’s also a novel written in the post-Soviet era, but it’s a parody of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment enabling the author to explore the interpersonal travails of living in a communal house during ‘Soviet Times’.  The elderly Alexandra Sergeyevna Pumpianskaya is the sole remnant of the aristocratic family that once lived in the house – a house now that is now occupied by a disparate group of people who form an eccentric and not very compatible extended family.  There are squabbles over kitchen space, over whose friend or relation gets to move in when there is a vacancy, and the younger generation do the usual irritating things that offspring do and provide opportunities to create discord, inconvenience and complaints.  A fine example of the Russian sense of humour.

Finally, with a neat segue back to Tony’s Book World because Tony recommended it, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  Tony described Towles as a great literary stylist in the order of Vladimir Nabokov. A literary stylist knows that it is not our final destination that matters but the pleasures we have along the way. A stylist can go on and describe a game of Hide the Thimble for several pages, and we will not complain; in fact we will be charmed.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a droll story with a serious undercurrent: An unrepentant aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov who has failed to understand the revolution, is in 1922 sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal, to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin.  This is also a novel with humour, poking fun at many aspects of the Revolution, but also showing how people learned to adapt until – in some cases – a line was crossed.  For Count Rostov, the line occurs when the child he has adopted grows into a woman whose future is compromised unless she escapes. 

So there you are!  Over to you!  If you’re joining in, please put the link to your blog post in comments below:)

Please use the hashtag #NovelsWithPlaceNames on Twitter, thanks!


Responses

  1. I was considering using ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ but didn’t, perhaps because of all this Putin/Trump business,it is plain to see there are no gentlemen in Moscow currently. :)

  2. I’ve been back through two and half years of blogging and I’ve reveiwed novels with town names in the title twice – Tasma, A Sydney Sovereign and one we all read and all overlooked, Black Rock, White City.

  3. Oooh, a nice list – two I’ve read and two I’d very much like to!

  4. The hard part will be the reviewing part. Most of my novels with place names were read pre-blogging days.

    But I love that you’ve had a blood rush to the head & started this meme. Somewhere I have a list of Australian books that I linked to the town or city they were predominately set in. This current chat is urging me to find it & see what can be done with it.

  5. Probably not the thing to do, bring in your own book, but have to mention Siddon Rock by Glenda Guest – a town in the Australian inland.

    • Oh Glenda, thank you for dropping by, I loved your book to bits and I do so hope you are writing another one!

  6. Haha, well done, Lisa. I think I’ll just use my post for this one – with 6 real Aussie titles. https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/04/11/a-meme-novels-with-place-names/

    Fascinating how many books have Moscow in the title.

  7. I’ll put my thinking cap on and post soon!

  8. #BelatedApology: I’m sorry I didn’t reply to Sue and Kate… August 12th was the day my father died, and well, this meme got left by the wayside…


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