A colourful photo montage of scenes from Malaysia, the French Riviera and more, all set against a green background.
A colourful photo montage of scenes from Malaysia, the French Riviera and more, all set against a green background.

Among the many wonderful things about books is their power to transport us: they can take us forward or back through time; into the minds and worlds of others; and they can bring us to some of our planet’s most beautiful locales, without ever leaving the sofa. Some books conjure a sense of location so well that they even inspire future travel – who wouldn’t want to see the magnificent place their favourite novel was set?

So, we got to thinking about some of the most captivating places that books have been set, and compiled a reading list – along with scenic photographs – to inspire your next journey.

A thriller in the Swiss Alps

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse (2021)

The setting for Sarah Pearse’s debut novel is just as exhilarating as its gripping plot – just look at those sublime Swiss Alps on the cover! – but The Sanatorium isn’t exactly the story of a ski holiday. In this white-knuckle thriller, Elin Warner is invited to her brother’s wedding at an imposing hotel in the mountains. But between a dangerous storm, her brother’s eerie behaviour, and the fact that the hotel was recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, Elin is on edge – a feeling compounded by the disappearance of her brother’s fiancé the next morning. With the storm cutting off communication to the outside, the guests are trapped… and they’re getting panicky. Come for the scenic views, stay for the spellbinding ending.

A photo of the spectacular Swiss Alps reflected in a body of water, with trees on either side.

The spectacular Swiss Alps. Photo: iStock

Glamour and intrigue on the French Riviera

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald (1934)

What is it about gorgeous locales that attract the most sinister stories? In this literary classic by the author of The Great Gatsby, elegant couple Dick and Nicole Diver rent a villa on the beautiful French Riviera and surround themselves by their American friends. But when Dick falls for a 17-year-old Hollywood actress, and a murder threaten the young woman’s career, things start to unravel: Dick turns to alcohol and his behaviour becomes erratic, illuminating the already present problems in the Divers’ marriage. Glamorous and tragic at the same time, F Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel is unputdownable.

A photo of colourful houses along the French Riviera, with boats floating along the bank.

The languorous French Riviera. Photo: iStock

A moving family saga in Malaysia

Fragile Monsters by Catherine Menon (2021)

There are few places in the world more beautiful than Malaysia, where author Catherine Menon set her debut novel about a young woman, Durga, who returns to the country to visit her grandmother, Mary: a difficult woman who is “sharp-tongued and ferocious, with more demons than there are lines on her palms.” But as Mary opens up to her granddaughter, Menon teases out a poignant, intergenerational tale about motherhood, war, colonialism, love and redemption. This is a rare case where the novel itself is every bit as striking as the backdrop it’s set against.

A photo of homes on a forested mountain in Malaysia.

Homes on a pretty clouded mountain in Malaysia. Photo: iStock

A 'crazy rich' love story in Capri

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan (2020)

In 2017, author Kevin Kwan released Rich People Problems, the final entry in the trilogy he began with the worldwide phenomenon Crazy Rich Asians. Right away, he began working on his first standalone novel. The result is Sex and Vanity, a book based on the structure of E. M. Forster’s famed A Room With a View and set on the beautiful island of Capri, in Italy. It’s there, at a wedding, that Lucie Tang Churchill meets – and takes an immediate disliking to – the ostentatious George Zao. But when Lucie meets him again years later, this time in the gorgeous Hamptons in Long Island, things have changed, and Lucie has to decide whether to follow her head or her heart.

A photo of vividly hued houses on the shore of Capri, with boats anchored in the water out front.

The colourful Capri shoreline. Photo: Getty

A world lit classic in Colombia

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1970)

We know, we know: Macondo, the utopic town in which Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is set, is a made-up one, but the literary classic is clearly still set in beautiful Colombia. And it’s a classic for a reason: the epic tale takes place across seven generations of the fictional Buendía family as they navigate the unusual and extraordinary events that made Márquez’s novel a defining work of magical realism in the 1970s. If you love a bit of drama, a bit of the fantastic, and exploring heady themes like subjectivity and time – not to mention a magnificent backdrop – this iconic work of world literature is for you.

A photo of a row of homes in Colombia, with flowers on the colourful balconies.

A beautiful residential street in Colombia. Photo: Getty

A memoir of growing up on Corfu

My Family and Other Animals by Gerard Durrell (1956)

Gerard Durrell’s 2017 memoir about his unique upbringing might not be magical realism, but it’s magical and, perhaps even more impressively, it’s real. When he was a boy, the beloved British conservationist’s family moved from the UK to the legendarily scenic Greek island of Corfu. Of course, once there, Gerard and his idiosyncratic siblings must learn to share their villas with scorpions, geckos, toads, bats and butterflies, all of which he captures in charming and wry detail in this moving account of a childhood well spent.

A photo of a beach on the Greek island of Corfu with stunning blue waters.

A beach in Corfu, with stunning blue waters. Image: Getty

A romantic caper in the Scottish Highlands

The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent (2021)

In Lizzy Dent’s hugely entertaining debut novel, The Summer Job, young Birdy Finch runs away from her life for a single summer, taking up her best friend Heather’s job post at a luxury hotel in the magnificent Scottish highlands. Nice, right? The hitch is that not only has Birdy not told Heather; she also has to pretend to be her, including faking Heather’s world-class sommelier skills. With a sweet love story and a “messy heroine with a heart of gold” at its centre, The Summer Job is a relentlessly fun and frolicsome for fans of Bridget Jones’ Diary, Bridesmaids and breathtaking views of the highlands.

A photo of the misted Scottish Highlands at golden hour.

The misted, magnificent Scottish Highlands. Photo: Getty

Main collage image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin
Collage photos: Getty / iStock

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