Before a visit to Florence, it’s nice to set the scene by reading a good novel based in the city. Not only is it a great way to get a snapshot of its streets and atmosphere through the eyes of famous writers, it also gives you a taste of the city’s incredible history.
We check out local best-selling thriller writer Marco Vichi , a couple of Renaissance pot-boilers and some love stories set in the shadow of the famous Cathedral dome, or ‘cupolone‘.
7 Great Books set in Florence
1. “A room with a view”, E. M. Forster
Let’s start with a classic. “A room with a view” by English novelist E. M. Forster first published in 1908. Forster uses Florence as the background for a romance story and a humorous critique of prudish British society. The story is set at the beginning of the 20th century, and the first part of the book follows the adventures of two English women travelling to Florence.
It’s English girl meets English boy in Florence, a passion born in the most romantic of places, far from the confines of British society. But it’s not an easy choice for Miss Lucy… Should she follow her heart or go for a more acceptable partner like society wants her to do?
2. “Death in Florence”, Marco Vichi
Marco Vichi is a very popular Florentine thriller writer, and a few of his books have recently been translated into English. His stories make a great read as they captures the atmosphere of Florence in the 6o’s and have a likeable main character in disillusioned Commissario Bordelli.
“Death in Florence” is a slow paced classic thriller, or “giallo” with great characters, dark alleys and plenty of mystery hanging in the air. Set at the time of Florence’s flood in 1966, he follows Bordelli’s desperate investigation into the case of a missing child who is found dead in a wood near the city.
=> Check out the second novel in the Inspector Bordelli series “Death an the Olive Grove”.
3. “The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli”, Alyssa Palombo
Simonetta Cattaneo has been consigned to history. Not for any amazing personal achievements, but for being the muse that inspired Botticelli. Her features appear on iconic paintings such as “The Birth of Venus” and “Spring” among many others. She was the wife of Marco Vespucci, and admired by everyone in Florence for her beauty, including the Medici brothers Lorenzo and Giuliano, who were great fans of hers.
Though a love story between her and Botticelli never happened, it’s just too perfect to imagine them lost in the world of art and passion in the setting of Renaissance Florence. In “The most beautiful woman in Florence” Alyssa Palombo creates a passionate story and follows Simonetta as she learns to navigate the Florentine scene, her marriage and her most secret desires.
4. “Romola”, George Eliot
With this other English classic “Romola”, we travel back to Renaissance Florence at the time when fanatic religious leader Savonarola took control over the Florentine Republic, after the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici. It’s a convoluted time in Europe, and Columbus has just set sail for the new world.
With her scrupulously researched novel, Eliot brings the Renaissance alive on paper. The heroin is the daughter of a Florentine scholar, Romola, who falls in love with Tito, a man whose deceitfulness ultimately threatens the things she holds most dear.
5. “The Sign of the Weeping Virgin”, Alana White
An evocative historical mystery set in Florence at the end of the 15th century. The leading character is Guidantonio Vespucci, a Florentine lawyer who has a role in the Florentine government, and is very close to Lorenzo de’ Medici. The latter gives him the job of investigating the disappearance of a young girl, allegedly kidnapped by the Turks, and the mystery of a painting that has started weeping.
In “The sign of the weeping virgin” the author recreates sumptuous scenes and weaves plenty of historical details into the plot. The novel takes us through layers of mystery, into the Medici’s palace and we also get to meet Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer who gave his name to America. Well-written and full of life, from the characters to the streets they walk.
6. “Inferno”, Dan Brown
The first part of Dan Brown’s page-turning thriller “Inferno” is set in Florence. Here professor of symbology Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital and is caught up in a dramatic mystery that sends him on a hunt through Boboli Gardens, into Florence’s Baptistry and Palazzo Vecchio’s secret rooms. He’s saving the world from a mad scientist who’s obsessed with Dante’s Inferno, and he’s in the company of a young and (of course) attractive doctor.
With Botticelli’s map of hell as one of the main clues, Langdon steals Dante’s death mask and escapes a nasty fall above the Hall of the 500 in Palazzo Vecchio. It’s just the beginning of an action-packed thriller that – in perfect Dan Brown style – takes in beautiful destinations, including Venice and Istanbul, and gives us an art history tour on the way. Unrealistic but unputdownable.
7. “Portrait of a conspiracy: Da Vinci’s disciples”, Donna Russo Morin
The novel takes a real event in Florence’s history, the Pazzi Conspiracy, and creates a fantastical plot in which Leonardo da Vinci helps a group of female artists to save one of their friends in the midst of bloody events that followed the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici inside Florence’s Cathedral in 1478.
Women artists, a secret society, plenty of blood and political intrigue. All set at a time when Florence is shocked by the murder of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s brother. In “Portrait of a conspiracy” fact and fiction mix with vivid imagination and florid language.
=> For those who read Italian, we recommend a great Italian classic set in Florence: “Le ragazze di San Frediano” by Vasco Pratolini. Set at the end of WWII, the story follows the mishaps of a local ‘Don Giovanni’ in the working class neighbourhood of San Frediano.
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