Whether they’re romantics, art-lovers, food aficionados or historians, when you tell people you’re going to Rome, they’ll sigh – even if they haven’t been there. Here are five recommended novels set in this magical destination to read before you travel or to curl up with at the end of a day of sightseeing the Eternal City.
The Pope is dead. Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.
A grey dawn in 1943: on a street in Rome, two young women, complete strangers to each other, lock eyes for a single moment.
One of the women, Chiara Ravello, is about to flee the occupied city for the safety of her grandparents' house in the hills. The other has been herded on to a truck with her husband and their young children, and will shortly be driven off into the darkness.
In that endless-seeming moment, before she has time to think about what she is doing, Chiara makes a decision that changes her life for ever. Loudly claiming the woman's son as her own nephew, she demands his immediate return; only as the trucks depart does she begin to realize what she has done. She is twenty-seven, single, with a sister who needs her constant care, a hazardous journey ahead of her, and now a child in her charge - a child with no papers who refuses to speak and gives every indication that he will bolt at the first opportunity.
Three decades later, Chiara lives alone in Rome, a self-contained, self-possessed woman working as a translator and to all appearances quite content with a life which revolves around work, friends, music and the theatre. But always in the background is the shadow of Daniele, the boy from the truck, whose absence haunts her every moment. Gradually we learn of the havoc wrought on Chiara, her family and her friends by the boy she rescued, and how he eventually broke her heart. And when she receives a phone call from a teenage girl named Maria, claiming to be Daniele's daughter, Chiara knows that it is time for her to face up to the past.
This epic novel is an unforgettably powerful, suspenseful, heartbreaking and inspiring tale of love, loss and war's reverberations down the years.
Bringing to life the subterfuge and double-dealing of Roman nobility, Robert Graves's I, Claudius brings the ancient world to life with startling clarity and meticulous realism. Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius' autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves's brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.
In 1989, The Silver Pigs introduced the world to laid-back first-century detective Marcus Didius Falco, his partner Helena Justina, his law and order pal Petronius, and his indomitable Mother - who became some of the most celebrated characters in historical fiction.
Now reissued in a special edition to celebrate publication of Falco's twentieth investigation, The Silver Pigs sees Falco cynically eyeing up the new Roman emperor, Vespasian. Our hero, a private informer, rescues a young girl in trouble and is catapulted into a dangerous game involving stolen imperial ingots, a dark political plot and, most hazardous of all, a senator's daughter connected to the traitors Falco has sworn to expose.
A small culturally mixed community living in an apartment building in the centre of Rome is thrown into disarray when one of the tenants is murdered. As each of the victim’s neighbours is questioned by the police, readers are offered an all-access pass into the most colourful neighbourhood in contemporary Rome. Each character takes his or her turn “giving evidence,” recounting his or her story—the drama of racial identity, the anxieties and daily humiliations born of a life spent on society’s margins, but also the hilarious imbroglios that are inevitable in this melting pot of cultures. What emerges is a moving story that is common to us all.
With language that is as colourful as the neighbourhood it describes, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio is characterised by a seemingly effortless prose that borrows from the cinematic tradition of the Commedia all’Italiana, as exemplified by directors such as Federico Fellini. At the heart of this bittersweet comedy, winner of Italy’s prestigious Flaiano Prize for Fiction, is a social reality we often tend to ignore and an anthropological analysis, refreshing in its generosity, that cannot fail to fascinate.