Place and time in books. Am I the only one who thinks about this?


Do you think about place in the books you read? I mean where it’s set. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.
I finally finished a A Gentleman in Moscow. Wow. I really enjoyed it, even if it did take me three weeks to get through it! It’s written from such a unique viewpoint and weaves together not only the comings and goings in the Metropol Hotel, but also in Russia at large in the first half of the 20th century.

In looking at the hotel’s website now that I’m at the end of the book, I am intrigued. I rarely want to actually see in real life what an author describes. If I watch a movie rather than read a book (or even after I read it), I am usually disappointed. My own imagination is pretty busy, so I don’t usually have a hard time with mental images. But this time, with no knowledge of what Moscow really looks like, my imagination had to scramble to keep up. Looking at historical photos of the hotel filled in some of the gaps.

Hotel Metropol, Moscow (photo courtesy

The same thing happened after I read All the Light We Cannot See. It was set in France (mostly) during World War II, with most of the story taking place in St. Malo. Although I lived in Germany for several years and travelled a lot while there, I never went to St. Malo. But now I wish I had.

This photo, found on the book’s cover makes it so easy to imagine Marie-Laure, the protagonist in All the Light, living in St. Malo. You can easily picture any of these houses as the place where she lived.

St. Malo. from the book’s cover

And this photo, taken during WWII, obviously, shows how terribly ruined the city became.

After the bombings

What have these photos taught me? That it might be okay to look for visuals of a book’s setting, especially if it is in any way based on historical events.

Do you look at, or think about, the place where a book is set? Do you prefer to let your imagination do the work, or do you look it up?

  • Teddy Pruett

    Place is just an additional character, and extremely important to me. I guess, being a “Southern Writer” place is ALL important.

    • “Place is just an additional character…” That’s a good way to say it. I had never looked for visuals of a place before, so it’s been interesting. I had no mental images of either St. Malo or Moscow, so could not pull from my own well.

  • Wendy Tuma

    In my opinion, a good author should make you want to know more about where the story is taking place. One of my favorite series of books is a fiction series, based on history and folklore, about life in Maine in the 1800s. Maine is now on my bucket list of places to visit, not only to meet the author, but also to see some of the places he mentions in the book. I enjoy books that cause me to fully immerse in them.

    • Maine is beautiful, Wendy! But yes, I know what you mean about wanting to know more about a place.

      Now you have me wondering, what is the series?

      • Wendy Tuma

        The Moosepath League series by Van Reid. They are some of my go to books when I need a break from the heaviness of life. They are whimsical, funny, and Van is an excellent storyteller.

        • I have never even heard of these…will have to check them out!

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