The Best Books Set in Naples

Naples (source: Get Your Guide)

Naples is a great city for books and movies. The city and its people have a very special reputation. There are plenty of stories and rumours about the mafia, robberies and crimes. But also about love, romance and friendship. They even say it is Italy’s scariest city.

Personally, I do not think it is that bad. I can say that the traffic is terrible and the place is noisy and untidy. But it is intense and has a lot of personality and charm.

Novels / Essays

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

It is a 4-part novel which includes 4 texts:

The series follows the lives of two close friends, Elena (“Lenù”) Greco and Raffaella (“Lila”) Cerullo, from childhood to adulthood and old age, as they try to create lives for themselves amidst the violent environment of their home, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples.

The friends have a complex and evolving bond, and the author provides a meticulous portrait of them both, with a fluent and admirable style. Ferrante also tells the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country, and provides a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

Ferrante is a pseudonymous Italian novelist, whose identity remains unknown. She holds that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.” has repeatedly argued that anonymity is a precondition for her work[6] and that keeping her true name out of the spotlight is key to her writing process.

She considers the four books to be “a single novel”, published serially for reasons of length and duration. The series has sold over 10 million copies in 40 countries. And Time magazine called Ferrante one of the 100 most influential people in 2016.

The area where the girls grow up is based on working-class Rione Luzzatti. Other places that are considered to have inspired the author are the historic centre on a Dante-esque, Porta Capuana gate, Via Carbonara, O’ Buvero street market, Via Tasso and the Chiaia district. [The Guardian]

And besides Naples, the history moves to Florence, Milan and the beautiful Island of Ischia.

Italian Hours by Henry James

Italian Hours is a collection of essays written by the popular and acclaimed American-British author Henry James. He wrote the essays over nearly forty years (from 1872 to 1909) about a country he knew and loved well. He revised and sometimes expanded the essays to create a more consistent whole.

He explores art and religion, political shifts and cultural revolutions, and the nature of travel itself. Besides

“James’s enthusiastic appreciation of the unparalleled aesthetic allure of Venice, the vitality of Rome, and the noisy, sensuous appeal of Naples are everywhere marked by pervasive regret for the disappearance of the past and by ambivalence concerning the transformation of nineteenth-century Europe.” [Goodreads]

It also contains an introduction by John Auchard, which illuminates the surprising differences between the historical, political, and artistic Italy of James’s travels and metaphoric Italy that became the setting of some of his best-known works of fiction.

James is best known for a number of novels dealing with the social and marital interplay between emigre Americans, English people, and continental Europeans – examples of such novels include The Portrait of a LadyThe Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove.

The Temptation to Be Happy by Lorenzo Marone

The Temptation to Be Happy is a great novel about a cynical troublemaker and grumpy old widower whose life is changed by a woman who moves to his building with her strange husband. The characters are irreverent and absurd but quite interesting, and the book provides a good study of loneliness, and the inability to love or even connect with family members.

Cesare -the seventy-seven-year-old widower- has lived his whole life by his own rules and has no intention of changing. He spends his days avoiding the old cat lady next door and screening calls from his children.

But when the enigmatic Emma moves in next door with her sinister husband, Cesare suspects there is more to their relationship and investigates, discovering new and unexpected circumstances that change his future.

His description of Naples is quite different from other authors like Elena Ferrante, with statements such as “Naples at dawn looks elegant and austere”.

Cesare has plenty of opinions, most of the time on the negative side. One of its quotes is: “Seriously, at my age, should I really add another individual to the wretched list of people I’m interested in? I’ve always tried to keep the list under control so that it didn’t grow beyond all measure. The more people you love, the less pain you avoid. That’s another reason I’ve never had a dog: I’m sure it would immediately leap to the top position.”

An adaptation of the novel was brought to cinemas by Director Gianni Amelio. The movie is called Tenderness (La Tenerezza) and was released in 2017. Neapolitan stage actor Renato Carpentieri, who starred in Amelio’s Oscar-nominated Open Doors is playing the lead amid an A-list Italian cast comprising Elio Germano, Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Micaela Ramazzotti.

Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano

Gomorrah is a non-fiction investigative book, which documents Saviano’s infiltration and investigation of various areas of business and daily life controlled or affected by the popular criminal organization Camorra.

In this book Saviano employs prose and news-reporting style to narrate the story of the Camorra, exposing its territory, business connections and criminal activities. Since 2006, following the publication of the book, Saviano has been threatened by several Neapolitan gangsters and the government granted him a permanent police escort.

The book has sold almost 4 million copies worldwide. The author illustrates the decline of Naples under the rule of the Camorra.  The organized crime network had a large international reach and stakes in construction, high fashion, illicit drugs, and toxic waste disposal, affecting cities and villages along the Neapolitan coast.

Saviano tells of huge cargoes of Chinese goods that are shipped to Naples and then quickly distributed unchecked across Europe. He investigates the Camorra’s control of thousands of Chinese factories contracted to manufacture fashion goods, legally and illegally, for distribution around Europe and the World. Huge cargoes of Chinese goods are shipped to Naples and then quickly distributed unchecked across Europe.

His investigation made Saviano work as an assistant at a Chinese textile manufacturer, a waiter at a Camorra wedding, and on a construction site.

See Naples and Die by Penelope Green

See Naples and Die is a travel memoir about the myths surrounding Naples, and with the help of many locals, she finds out which are true, and which are not, and bravely creates a few myths of her own. It is a “first-hand account of life in a city that is filled with fear, crime, rubbish, beauty, great food, generous inhabitants and a thrilling sense of living every moment to the fullest.” [Google Books]

Penelope Green is an Australian author who moved to an island off the coast of Naples. With innate curiosity and an eye for detail, she shows the real city in all its splendour. She uncovers a chaotic metropolis where crime and poverty blur with abundant natural beauty.

Along the book, she describes the alleyways of the labyrinthine old town, the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, the Gulf of Naples, and the whole coast, where she travels on the back of a Vespa. She also spends pages on the history of Naples, the Camorra

Her first novel was when she was living in Rome, titled When in Rome – Chasing La Dolce Vita. At the time she was also an ex-pat moving from Australia.

Travel books

The Mother-in-Law Cure (Originally published as Only in Naples): Learning to Live and Eat in an Italian Family by Katherine Wilson

The Mother-in-Law Cure is an enchantingly warm and witty memoir that follows American-born Katherine Wilson on her adventures in abroad.

She arrives in Naples, for an internship at the U.S. Consulate. One evening, she meets handsome Salvatore and finds herself immediately enveloped by his elegant mother, Raffaella, and the rest of the Avallone family.

From that moment, Katherine’s education begins: Never eat the crust of a pizza first, always stand up and fight for yourself and your loved ones, and consider mealtimes sacred—food must be prepared fresh and consumed in compagnia.

Unexpectedly falling for Salvatore, and captivated by Raffaella’s companionship and guidance, Katherine discovers how to prepare meals that sing—from hearty, thick ragù to comforting pasta al forno. Through courtship, culture clashes, marriage, and motherhood, Katherine comes to appreciate carnale, the quintessentially Neapolitan sense of comfort and confidence in one’s own skin. The Mother-in-Law Cure is a sumptuous story that is a feast for the senses.

Goethe said, “See Naples and die.” But Katherine Wilson saw Naples and started to live. [Amazon]

The Espresso Break: Tours and Nooks of Naples, Italy and Beyond by Barbara Zaragoza

The Expresso Break is a useful guidebook based on the author’s Naples-based blog The Espresso Break.

“Travel to Hades and Purgatory, roam the ruins like the gluttonous Romans or watch miracles happen. The Espresso Break takes you into the mythical land that is the oldest city in the Western World — Naples, Italy — and beyond.” [Goodreads]

The book combines cultural and historical information with a detailed description of attractions and tips. Some of these attractions are Naples’ castles, the Phlegraean Fields, the ancient Greek and Roman and the intricate city itself.

It also includes an Espresso Tour through the city to discover the best coffee, the different types of espresso and the best places in Naples to find them.

Lonely Planet Naples, Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast (Travel Guide) by Lonely Planet and Cristian Bonetto

Naples, Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast is a travel guide by the world’s leading travel guide publisher, Lonely Planet.

It is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Meander past orange groves and swaying pines to reach steep seaside towns, go cave diving off the Capri coast, or contemplate the silent power of Mt. Vesuvius; all with your trusted travel companion. []

It includes full-colour maps and images, highlights and itineraries and insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots). There is also essential info such as hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices, reviews for all budgets, and cultural insights. It covers Naples, Procida, Capri, Positano, Mt Vesuvius, Pompeii, Ravello, The Islands, Salerno, the Cilento and Amalfi Coast.

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