Last summer, I fulfilled a long-held ambition to visit Prince Edward Island, setting for one of my favourite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. I have since reread all the Anne novels and their prequel, published in 2008 for the 100th anniversary of publication. Seek out Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson, it accurately fleshes out the details Montgomery gives about Anne’s early years and is true to the spirit of the original.
This got me thinking about other places that books inspired me to visit. Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming introduces another feisty young heroine, Dicey Tillerman. It starts in a mall parking lot where the thirteen year old and three younger siblings are waiting for their mother. She never comes back, and Dicey takes charge. Scared to ask for help in case the family is separated, they set out on a long trek to find a relative. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens – and if you get hooked, there are several sequels. So where did Dicey inspire me to go? Although the story opens in Connecticut, the family’s home is Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The description of the sand dunes and the sea reeled me in, and for my first visit to the US that was where I chose.
Another place I longed to see was Lyme Regis in Dorset where Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb (harbour wall) in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The Cobb also features in John Fowles’ brilliant and complex French Lieutenant’s Woman, a Victorian novel written from a twentieth century perspective. A few years ago I too walked the Cobb (avoiding the fall), then read the book again. I found my opinions had changed with time – I enjoyed it just as much, but chose a different ending. Fowles provides alternatives, one romantic, the other more pragmatic. Read it for yourself and decide which is better!
In my current reading, it was the place which sent me to the book. Last year, on an Underground Berlin tour, I visited a Second World War shelter. Conditions at the time were horrific, with people staying down there for up to 5 days at a time. The guide recommended A Woman in Berlin, an anonymous diary about the battle for survival in the last days of the war when the arrival of Russians soldiers made rape a daily hazard. This is a harrowing read, despite being beautifully written, but one I feel I must finish.
Finally, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is next on my pile. This is different again, because the place inspiring me to reread it doesn’t figure in the book at all – it’s Glasgow, which doubles as San Francisco in the recent film. The six stories nested like Russian dolls in the book, but have been broken up in the film which, in some ways, makes the connections between them more apparent. I just need to check the book to make sure….