Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Best Fiction Books Set in Barcelona

Casa Mila novels set in Barcelona
Gaudi architecture in Barcelona (Casa Mila)
As some may know, I will be spending my next university year in Spain, as part of my year abroad. I have chosen to work in Barcelona, for reasons of location, the Catalan language and, primarily, culture. The city's cultural attractions include Gaudi's architecture, the Sagrada Família, and the National Museum of Art of Catalonia. There are so many other examples, and I look forward to writing about them (and, of course, taking lots of photos to share) on my trip to Barcelona.

In this brief post, I'd like to discuss Barcelona's literary influence.

Fiction Set in Barcelona

Firstly, I have to mention The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This is a fantastic book, particularly when read in the original Spanish. The novel is set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and, as an ultimately gothic literary thriller, it deals with mystery, murder, madness and doomed love. This spans all corners of the city, and often uses the famous café Els Quatre Gats on Carrer Montsió for orientation: one of the main centres of Modernisme in Barcelona. The narrator writes,

"Els Quatre Gats was just a five-minute walk from our house and one of my favourite haunts … Inside, voices seemed to echo with shadows of other times. Accountants, dreamers, and would-be geniuses shared tables with the spectres of Pablo Picasso, Isaac Albéniz, Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí." 

Secondly, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia is the classic account of Barcelona and Catalonia during the Civil War. In 1936, Orwell travelled to Spain to report on the conflict, but instead found himself joining the violence. Homage to Catalonia describes the hopes and betrayal of the Spanish revolution, alongside first-hand experience, in an honest and personal way. In the following quote, Orwell describes Las Ramblas in central Barcelona:

"Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the anarchists: every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle … Down the Ramblas … the loudspeakers were bellowing revolutionary songs."

Literature is such a good way to prepare you for visiting a place, and I hope to soon share some full posts on fiction (and non-fiction) set in the Spanish city. For now, I'll leave you with a list of Barcelona-based literature that I'd like to read:
Parc Guell Barcelona, a city of great literary influence
Parc Güell, overlooking a city of great 
literary influence.  Image source

I'd love to know any other recommendations you may have - feel free to comment below!


tolstoytherapy said...

A trip to Mexico sounds great - I certainly envy you! The first novel that comes to mind is The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. It is long, very modern, and quite unusual, but I remember enjoying it.

A more popular choice is Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, although I don't think I enjoyed it as much. I believe Graham Greene and D.H. Lawrence have set some novels in Mexico - they might be worth checking out too. I hope you find something!

Best wishes.

Brian Joseph said...

Fantastic that you will be studying in Spain!

Sadly I have read little Spanish literature but I really
want to read more. he Shadow of the Wind sounds like a great book.

Repsych said...

That's great! Thank you ever so much. I'll start with the Savage Detectives. I'll let you know how I get on.
Spain is my favourite travel destination. I'm sure you'll have lots of fun and meet lots of nice people! Best of luck x

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Bellezza said...

I'm so happy for you to be studying abroad! I remember walking by the Sorbonne in Paris and longing to be a student there, but I dubt my French would hold up let alone the difficulty of the classes! Everyone loves The Shadow of the Wind; I've read it twice and been annoyed both times, but perhaps I'll try one of his other books to see what else I could be missing.

tolstoytherapy said...

I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind, but found Ruiz Zafón's other novels to be lacking slightly in something. Perhaps I've chosen the less-good ones, however! I'd like to read The Angel's Game (the sequel to Shadow of the Wind) and see if that's any better. I did also read The Shadow of the Wind in Spanish, so perhaps that's why I enjoyed it more than his other novels that I read in English.

Studying in France has always seemed so romantic to me - I wonder what Spain will be like! I'm sure my Spanish will improve a great deal (after initial stuggles, I'm sure). It will be a lot of fun.

Thank you for your comment and well-wishes :)

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, it will be interesting to know what you think of it. I remember taking a long time to read it, but it was worth it in the end for me. I'd like to find something else by Bolaño to read this summer, perhaps.

Spain is great: I'll just have to bring a lot of suncream with me! I hope you're well xx

SusannaSS said...

Hi, I've just found your blog through "Better living through Beowulf", being myself a huge fan of both this blog and Tolstoy I couldn't miss yours. I was ready to take my time and read a few entries when I found out you're coming over to Barcelona! I live about 20 minutes from the city, feel free to ask me anything and I'll be happy to help if you need it!

About catalan literature, I haven't read as much as I would. I studied English in college and I've focused more on literature written in English than in my own country's. Anyway, here come a few recommendations. I may write other comments when other recommendations come to mind. Apart from "The time of the doves" I would reccomend you to read Rodoreda's "Broken mirror", where you can see Faulkner's influence in the structure of the novel. Also, "El carrer de les camèlies" (not sure if there's a translation), you get another look to the post-war years in Barcelona, people living in terrible conditions in illegal immigrant camps. The main character Cecilia Ce is one of those characters that stick in your mind.

I would also recommend another writer, uncomprehensibly "forgotten", but we Catalans tend to do that... Or rather we don't know how to properly pay homage to people who deserve it. Anyways, I would very much recommend Montserrat Roig, who died much too soon to cancer. Here's a link in English:

And also, this year we are celebrating the Salvador Espriu year (he was born in 1913), one of the best poets and playwrights.

I'll keep you posted!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Susanna! Better Living Through Beowulf is such a great blog, and I was so excited when Robin asked me to write a guest post. I'm really glad that it's led you to my blog.

Your offer of help means so much - I'll be sure to get in touch if I have any questions, fears, or anything similar! I'll be living in Eixample from Aug 26, which I'm already quite excited about. My sister's going to stay with me for the first week or so, which should make the transition easier for me.

I'm so excited about learning Catalan - I ski quite regularly in Andorra, and I therefore know a bit from my time there, although I'm hoping to really get to grips with the language during my time in Barcelona. Catalan novels will certainly help me with that too, I'm sure!

I greatly appreciate the recommendations you've given me. I'll be sure to research them all and find copies to keep me occupied :) El carrer de les camèlies does sound really thought-provoking.

The name Montserrat Roig does sound familiar - perhaps I've briefly studied him at some time or other.... So thanks for the link, I'll be sure to reacquaint myself!

I didn't realise that 2013 was a celebration of Salvador Espriu, I'd certainly like to plan some time reading his work both before and during my time in Spain.

Thank you for listing so many books for me to think about. It's always great to hear suggestions from locals, particularly when it involves reading material!

Best wishes,

SusannaSS said...

Hi again, I thought this could be helpful... :)

SusannaSS said...

Oops, so sorry... I should have posted the home page...

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you so much, Susanna! I've settled in nicely after arriving on Monday, but I'd really like to find some quieter spots off the tourist track... there are some great ideas on that website :) There are lots of cafes that I'd like to visit too. The website is bookmarked and I've started a list! Hoping you're well, Lucy.

SusannaSS said...

Don't miss in the Gothic quarter, "El call", the old Jewish quarter. I've just read they recently discovered an old synagogue which is open to visits. The streets retain a medieaval atmosphere, just imagine it was chosen to shot some scenes from the movie "Perfume: the story of a murderer"... It's like you go back in the past.

Another place to go, out of the track (you will even feel you are not in a city), is the Monestir de Pedralbes.


P.S.: On 9/11 we celebrate our National Day, don't miss the Catalan Way (I know I'm getting into politics here, but I think it's going to be very spectacular to watch, at least for a foreigner).

tolstoytherapy said...

I absolutely loved the Perfume film so I'll be sure to visit El call! I've also done some research and found loads of other places shown in the film that I'd love to visit too - thanks for the tip!

My boyfriend's staying for a week from Sunday and he's a keen photographer, so I'm sure the Gothic quarter would be great for him to visit with me at some point.

I've heard good things about Monestir de Pedralbes too, and I'm even more tempted to visit now I know it's off the tourist track. I've noticed the 9/11 adverts and I'd love to see it - I find Catalan culture and identity so interesting and definitely don't oppose the politics involved!

Your recommendations have been so useful... it's a lot easier to settle down in a city knowing that there's so many great things to see :) If I have any queries I'll be sure to ask you first!

SusannaSS said...

I'm glad I can help. And do feel free to ask. If you are doing one day excursions, don't miss Montserrat mountains (you can go by train). Then, Sitges and visit El cau ferrat... And of course, la Costa Brava (now much quieter than in the summer...), there you can visit Empúries (greek remains), Dalí's museum in Figueres, Cadaqués, Tossa... If you decide to go to the "comarques de l'interior" don't miss Cardona Castle (Orson Welles shot there some scenes of Chimes at Midnight) ... And for weekend excursions, you can go further and visit la Vall d'Aran, Lleida, Andorra and el Delta de l'Ebre... Plenty to do and see! Check for festivals, too. In December there's a medieval fair in Vic, there's La Dansa de la Mort in Verges, during Easter, which goes back to the Medieval Ages; La Patum de Berga, in Corpus Christi; and there are Castellers all year round.
By the way, take your boyfriend to drink water from the Canaletes fountain in Les Rambles. They say that the one who drinks, comes back... ;)

SusannaSS said...

Another place off the tourist track is Aiguafreda Street in the Horta borough. It's very "rodoredaesque", it's an open air washing place, and it's been kept like in the old times.
And once in Horta, you may as well visit the Parc del laberint d'Horta, nice labyrinth... Apparently the oldest historical garden in Barcelona.

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks Susanna! My boyfriend and I visited the Parc del laberint d'Horta and loved it :) It's such a relaxing place to visit, and as we went on a Sunday we had free entry! I'll definitely be returning there on the occasional weekend, particularly if I have a good book to read :)

We also had a day trip to Montserrat and had an amazing time. We took the longest walking route and found it so worthwhile when we got to the top of Sant Jeroni.

Oh, and we saw the Catalan Way too! It was such a spectacle to watch and we took a lot of photos. You've given me so many ideas of places to visit, thanks so much! I'll be sure to let you know how I get on which each one, or you can keep an eye on my blog for my year in Barcelona ( I should be uploading some photos of my latest adventures on there in the next few days!

TripFiction said...

You will have a wonderful time in Barcelona and Spain! We couldn't agree more when you say: Literature is such a good way to prepare you for visiting a place! We'd be happy to help if you need any more inspiration for novels 'set in' Spain (it's what we do, well, not just Spain, but globally as well!). Lovely selection of books on this post - keep reading and enjoying! :)

tolstoytherapy said...

I'd certainly recommend The Shadow of the Wind! I'll be sure to keep my blog updated with my experiences in Spain, literary and otherwise.

Best wishes!

Repsych said...

That's a good point, reading books about the place you'll visit. I'm planning going to Mexico in the end of this year, have you read anything taking place in Mexico that you could recommend? Many thanks x