This time of year, when the chimney pots are hot and there’s a half-finished ham in the fridge, is the high season for armchair travel. Here are five novels with an enveloping sense of place—from student common rooms at Oxford to rain-lashed Suffolk hillsides—in Britain.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
After the deaths of both her parents, Flora Poste goes to stay with relatives on a gloomy farm in Sussex, where she is determined to introduce “the higher common sense” to her hosts. The narrative is a parody of the heavy-handed countryside melodramas that were popular in the 1920s, but no less atmospheric for that—and roll-past-your-bus-stop funny.
Hodder & Stoughton Publishers
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
Poison pen letters ignite a mystery at a women’s college at Oxford University. Sayers was one of the first female students at Oxford, and she evokes the dining halls and picnic punts—and the uneasy reception of lady scholars—with the sharp eyes of an insider.
Penguin Vintage Classics
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Mortimer family live in genteel deprivation in the castle of the title, steadily selling off the furniture until their glamorous American landlords move nearby and the possibility of a marriage dangles. Smith wrote this novel while abroad in California, and her sleepy Suffolk countryside is thick with bluebells and rolling mists (romantic in summer, sad in autumn, she says).
Little Brown Publishers
44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Originally published as a weekday serial in The Scotsman newspaper, the novel follows a handful of characters who live at 44 Scotland Street as they move through highly recognisable, present-day Edinburgh, even encountering some of its real-life residents.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Over the course of a day in June, Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party at her house in Westminster. The mood in London between the wars is euphoric and unsettled, and Woolf summons the buses and shops and street noise with zingy, knowing poetry.
Article written by Jo Rodgers, a contributor to Vogue and Condé Nast Traveller.