On story settings being real

Does knowing the place that one is reading about increase one’s enjoyment of what one is reading? I loved reading Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke – I have read it before, and thoroughly enjoyed it previously, but a great deal of my enjoyment this time was knowing the streets and places that were mentioned in the book, and picturing them, and comparing them to their present day counterparts.

Frederick and Sally visit the East End of London a day after I visited it, and I was able to laugh at how it was portrayed as dodgy, whereas now it is gentrified and very hip. Sally took the train up to Oxford – tomorrow I will be taking the train up to Oxford. Sally visits Piccadilly – I visited Piccadilly.

Commercial Street in East London, which the characters of 'The Ruby in the Smoke' visit.

Commercial Street in East London, which the characters of ‘The Ruby in the Smoke’ visit.

 

There was a second layer of enjoyment on topic of the usual enjoyment of the book because I knew where Sally was. It’s almost a smugness, I suppose, that I know more than perhaps an average reader would know. But I wonder if it takes away a bit of the imagination required? I still had to imagine these places as dark, dirty, Victorian places, with gas lamps and mysterious characters lurking around corners.

I think reading Ruby in the Smoke also worked the opposite way as well – it increased my enjoyment of parts of London, because I would suddenly recognise the name of a street that Sally or other characters from the books had visited and have a moment of relish at the recognition. That happened yesterday – I went to see the musical of Matilda (which I will have to write about in another post – It was simply marvellous) and realised not only had I walked through the roundabout that the theatre sat on before, but that it was Seven Dials, which appears in the book.

I love the way books can change the way we see places, or places can change the way we read stories. I’ve bought a few books while in London that are set in London, like the Family on One End Street, and look forward to matching up places with stories throughout my trip, both in the UK and across Europe.

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One comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I remember as a child reading books that were set in real places – with a child’s imagination, it felt as if the events in the book could be real too.

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