Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Is that an owl I see before me? Top ten most vivid worlds

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings in Books.


To join the inevitable horde...

#1 will have to be the world created for the Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling.

My favourite part of this world is the elision between the wizarding world and the Muggle world. The cover ups and obfuscations when things go a little bit awry. The awareness that wizards and witches have of Muggles, but the obliviousness that Muggles express towards anything wizarding, even if it's, you know, a flying car or garishly coloured robes.

As a reader, reading these books for the first time,  I kind of wanted to jump inside.

#2 A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R. R. Martin.

There are MAPS! My favourite thing in books. The world is vast and intricate, with just enough references to the real world to make it seem plausible and acceptable (particularly in the first book), and just enough extra to make it such a compelling fantasy series. I always finish a book wanting to know more about the world and its inhabitants, the landscape, the customs, and all those places on the map that we have yet to visit...

#3 Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

While I struggled with this book, the world in it - a futuristic nightmare of credit poles and see-through trousers, where everything is fit to be broadcast and shared - was vivid and a little bit frightening in its garishness.

#4 The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

Childless women over the age of 50 are sent to a facility where their every whim is catered for - the only catch is, they might be called upon to participate in medical tests at any moment. Some of these tests are harmless; others can be fatal. Usefulness to society is valued over all. A brilliant book that sticks with you.

#5 The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy

My A-level English teacher would be proud. I read this when I was 16 and at college, and I can't say that any of us were particularly enamoured with it. It was, however, one of my first experiences of a book in which the landscape 'counted' as a character, and I can still remember the events that took place over a year and a day on Egdon Heath. Score one for school.

#6 Malory Towers series, by Enid Blyton

I imagine I filled in a lot of the details for myself as a kid, because these books weren't big on intricate description as I remember. But much like the Harry Potter books, I wanted on occasion to be a student at Malory Towers, and the school, with its four towers, the pool, the lacrosse pitch, and the offices for older students, all seemed gloriously exotic at the time.

#7 The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth

I love Philip Roth's books, and have done ever since I was introduced to Portnoy's Complaint at university by my Jewish-American Lit lecturer (my absolute favourite teacher, ever). This, like a lot of other Roth books, is set in Newark, NJ, and is brought to life wonderfully. TPAA is an alternate history, but Newark remains real. One of my all-time favourite books.

#8 The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

A too-hot, too-humid Southern town bakes in the summer while Harriet attempts to solve, along with her friend, the mystery of her younger brother's death. This book really came to life for me when I was reading it, and the landscape envelopes you completely.

#9 Alone in Berlin, by Hans Fallada

A bleak Berlin under Nazi occupation. Deception, suspicion, and the gradual, horrible loss of hope, all along the grey, uncompromising streets of wartime Berlin.

#10 The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

This sleepy Michigan neighbourhood is far from being other-worldly, yet it is rendered in such a dreamlike, half-remembered way that I think it qualifies. Vivid and blurry at the same time, you feel like you're there when the heat gets unbearable and the air is full of flies and cut down trees.

And that's all before you go through the wardrobe to Narnia, or visit Armistead Maupin's San Francisco, or the Ystad of Kurt Wallander, or attempt to take on Big Brother...


  1. I love maps TOO! They really enhance any book, but especially fantasy and action/adventure!

    I haven't heard of The Little Friend though I did read The Secret History by the same author a few years back. I live in a very humid and sweltering area, not too terribly far from Mississippi, so I can unfortunately relate!

    And I really need to read The Virgin Suicides, I can't believe I haven't done so already.

    Great list, Kit! And I thought I was already following you but wasn't, so sorry! I've fixed that and am also following by RSS now:)

    1. Ahhh, I love The Secret History! The fact that Donna Tartt only publishes a book every 10 years or so is a shame, though - I am impatiently waiting for news of another.

  2. Love that you put Super Sad Love Story! I'm a huge Shteyngart fan but know he's definitely not for everyone.

    1. That's the only book of his I've read, it was recommended to me by someone in a bookshop, so I took a chance! It was a little bit outside of what I might normally read, but I'd be open to reading more of his stuff, it was certainly interesting.

  3. Out of your 10 I've only read HP and ASoIaF so I agree with those two, plus I'd like to read The Virgin Suicides


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