Books about Venice
One of the most sustainable ways to experience the enchanting beauty of the ancient lagoon city is through books about Venice.
Bella Figura Publications has just published a new photo book about Venice. ‘Dream of Venice in Black and White’ reflects the romantic melancholy and poetry we have come to associate with the 118 independent islands in the north western corner of the Adriatic Sea. And while the real Venice suffers under the weight of mass tourism, armchair travellers can enjoy the magic with a clean conscience. This has led me to accumulate a list of novels and books about Venice as a supplement to the popular list of Venice Quotes. The books about Venice list will be updated along the way, so please leave a comment if you have books about Venice to recommend and suggest.
The photos used to illustrate the list of books about Venice appear courtesy of JoAnn Locktov as samples from ‘Dream of Venice in Black and White’ that follows the previous publications of ‘Dream of Venice’ and ‘Dream of Venice Architecture’.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
The classic novella of a writer visiting Venice in an attempt to cure a severe case of writer’s block. He is uplifted, liberated and increasingly obsessed by the sights of a beautiful boy and finds himself drawn into a ruinous passion while Venice and the writer himself succumbs to the plague.
Across the Rivers and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway
A story of how a dying colonel faces death through a series of flashbacks including a weekend in Venice with the alluring 18-year-old Renata, who may represent the city of Venice. A poignant, bittersweet homage to love that overpowers reason, to the resilience of the human spirit, and to the world weary beauty and majesty of Venice.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Venice is not exactly the primary location in this novel, but Lord Marchmain moves here to start a new life after abandoning his wife and family, which leads to some nice descriptions of the Lido especially.
Consuelo by George Sand
The subtitle of Consuelo is a romance of Venice. French author George Sand’s masterpiece about a poor young girl with a divine voice who rises to become the the prima donna of opera in Venice and the personal and artistic choices, she has to make.
Invisible cities by Italo Calvino
A framed conversation between the emperor Kublai Khan and the Venetian explorer Marco Polo, where they discuss a description of 55 fictitious cities, many of which can be read as parables or meditations on culture, language, time, memory, death. In a key paragraph Polo explains why he never mentions his hometown directly with the words: “Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.”
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson
The Merchant of Venice retold and juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father, Simon Strulovitch.
Italian Journey by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Classic travelogue of Italy and Venice in the early 19th century.
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
If anyone needs an excuse to reread Dickens it could be for the story of the month or two the Dorrit family stayed in a palace on the Grand Canal six time the size of the Marshalsea prison.
Massimilla Doni by Honoré de Balsac
Short story from The Human Comedy written as a eulogy to Rossini’s music, to the city of Venice, and to the Italian art of living.
Othello the moor of Venice by William Shakespeare
Classic tragedy about a Moorish general in the Venetian army and his unfaithful ensign, Iago with underlying themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance. In Venice you can visit the tomb of the true Othello, the Doge Cristoforo Moro, in the church of San Giobbe. And with no connection to the tragedy, there’s the Palazzo Contarini-Fasan, known as “Desdemona’s House”, on the Grand Canal.
Watermark by Joseph Brodsky
Though published in 1992, Brodsky’s partly autobiographical essay ‘Watermark’ ranges among the classic books about Venice. In 48 short chapters the author recalls specific episodes experienced in the seductive and enigmatic city.
1634: The Galileo Affair by Eric Flint and Andrew Dennis
Follows a group of West Virginians who secretly traveled to Venice where their advanced medical knowledge may prevent the recurrence of the terrible plague which recently killed a third of the city-state’s population. In Venice they become involved with the Inquisition’s trial of Galileo Galilei.
A Mapmakers Dream by James Cowan
Historical novel about a 15th-century Venetian cartographer and monk Fra Mauro who sets out to create the definitive map of the world from the stories of travellers who come to visit him. The project becomes the adventure of a lifetime.
Alibi by Joseph Kanon
In the aftermath of the Second World War, a young American comes to Venice, where he falls in love with a Jewish woman haunted by her devastating experiences from the war. In spite of the war the city is still a dream, untouched by bombs, but he gradually comes to realise it is a city at war with itself, haunted by deception, intrigue and atrocities.
Antonia of Venice by Ellyn Peirson
A story of revenge and selflessness in decadent 18th century. The novel traces Vivaldi’s pupil Antonia who develops into a star musician.
Bianca by Robert Elegant
At the height of the Renaissance, Venice triumphs over the rest of Europe in nearly every aspect of human life: painting, music, architecture, banking, publishing, medicine and manufacturing. In the wealthiest circle in this wealthiest of cities, Lady Bianca Capello rises to power and falls in love with an equally powerful man, but together they are forced to fight and conquer hatred, espionage and the unlikely enemy: beauty.
Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice
Historical novel about two castrati singers from very different backgrounds. The novel is set in eighteenth century Venice and Naples.
Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli
Historical (young adult) novel following the daughter of a Venetian nobleman in 1592. The girl Donata feels restricted by her privilege and comes up with a daring plan to escape the palazzo and explore the vibrant city she sees from her balcony. With great consequences to herself and her family, of course.
Daughters of the Doge by Edward Charles
Historical romance about a young English protestant and the intrigues incthe 16th centucy Venice.
In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
Historical novel about a courtesan and a dwarf escaping the sack of Rome in 1527. They head for the shimmering, decadent city of Venice as one of the worlds greatest cities at its most potent moment in history.
Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon by Andrea di Robilant
Historical novel with a firsthand account of the invasion of Napoleon in 1796 and the fall of the Venetian Republic.
Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears
Historical mystery novel that moves back in time from the mid-twentieth century to London in 1909, Paris in 1890 and finally to Venice in 1867 in attempts to uncover the truth about a sudden death in Europe’s first great age of espionage.
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Great historical novel about mysteries and miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire of 1591. The excuse to include the novel on this list is the master’s sojourn to Venice and his description of Italian religious art as seen from the east.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Captivating story about the secrets of a Jewish prayer book that takes us from the Bosnian war in Sarajevo to the Jewish artisans of Andalusia at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, via Vienna in the 19th century and Venice in the 16th century.
Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth
Three parallel stories dealing with the various periods (1432, 1793, and 1972) unfold an art-historical mystery among nice descriptions of some of the less visited areas in Venice.
A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich
Non-fiction tracing the rise of Venice from its fifth-century origins through 1797, when Napoleon put an end to the thousand-year-old Republic.
A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi
Biography of American woman who fell in love with an Italian and moved from America to Venice. The book contains a description of Venetian manners and it is adorned with recipes.
Casanova by John Masters
The colourful story of an ever fascinating Venian character of the eighteenth century, who apart from a lover was also a lawyer, a gambler, a churchman, freemason, confidence trickster and musician/impresario.
City of Fortune by Roger Crowley
An epic narrative history spanning 500 years covering Venice’s ascent from lagoon city to the greatest and richest power in the Mediterranean.
Elements of Venice by Giulia Foscari Widmann Rezzonico
An academic guide book that leads you through the architecture and the backstory of Venice.
Francesco’s Venice by Francesco da Mosto
Spin-off of a BBC documentary from 2004 where the author explores the history of Venice, interlaced with various anecdotes from his own experiences and family history.
Venice and the Cultural Imagination: ‘This Strange Dream upon the Water’ edited by Michael O’Neill, Mark Sandy, Sarah Wootton
Personal favourite summing up a world of writing about Venice.
City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
The book sets out to investigate the fire that incinerated the Fenice opera house in 1996, through a series of encounters with contemporary prominent Venetians.
A Plague in Venice by Michael E Henderson
Literary thriller about an artist trying to stop an ancient ghoul from bringing the plague into Europe.
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
Donna Leon has written a highly popular series of crime novels set in Venice. The novels feature Commissario Brunetti who solves murder mysteries in the lagoon city. Death at La Fenice is the first book of 28 Brunetti mysteries.
Brunetti’s Venice: Walks through the novels by Toni Sepeda
This literary guidebook takes you through Venice in the company of Donna Leon’s detective Commissario Guido Brunetti. The walks are pepped up by extracts from relevant parts of the novels.
Ascension by Gregory Dowling
Detective and mystery story set in 1749 Venice. At that time the city had lost its political and financial primacy but become Europe’s pleasure capital, famous for its gambling dens, its courtesans, its hectic carnival, its music, art and theatre – and the most highly organised secret service in Europe.
Corto Maltese: Fable of Venice by Hugo Pratt
Mystery thriller involving Freemasons, occultists, and esotericists set in the author’s hometown Venice during the rise of Fascism in 1921.
Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin
In the fourth novel in the Aurelio Zen series the Italian police detective Zen engineers a posting to Venice in order to investigate the disappearance of an American millionaire.
Island of the Mad by Laurie R King
Intriguing mystery novel set in Venice’s Poveglia Island, which was a lunatic asylum built on the bones of centuries of plague victims.
Lucifer’s Shadow by David Hewson
A modern and a historical (1733) mystery, both set in Venice and revealing that the city’s glittering facade masks a much darker reality.
Mission to Venice by James Hadley Chase
Thriller set in Venice where sudden death lurks along the canals.
Reincarnation in Venice by Max Simon Ehrlich
Science fiction or mystery book about a young and wealthy computer programmer who buys a medallion in an antique shop in New York. The purchase leads him on a long journey that takes him back to another man’s life – and death – in Venice.
Roses for a Diva by Rick Blechta
Operatic thriller about a diva with a persistent admirer who turns into a stalker, complete with Italian travel.
Scherzo: Murder and Mystery in 18th Century Venice by Jim Williams
Coclourful murder mystery and historical novel of stunning originality. It’s a story about two unusual detectives who set out to investigate a murder with links to the Venetian underworld. It takes place during Carnival in the mid-18th century.
Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier
A modern classic about an an English couple who come to Venice to escape the grief of their daughter’s death. The short story was turned into film in 1973.
Oliver VII by Antal Szerb
Hungarian novel from 1942 about a restless ruler who plots a coup against himself and escapes to Venice in search of ‘real’ experience. There he falls in with a team of con men and ends up impersonating himself.
A Stopover in Venice Kathryn Walker
On the spur of a moment a young American woman leaves her husband and ends up alone in Venice, where she is drawn into a world of charismatic characters, centuries of history and the mystery of a lost masterpiece.
A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant
Two stories in one written by a journalist at the Italian Newspaper La Stampa. One story is a genealogical thriller where di Robilant goes through an old bunch of family letters and thereby discovers a clandestine 18th century love affair that mirrors the decline of the city state.
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
Deeply romantic tale of two gifted musicians who re-experience a former love affair against the magical backdrop of Venice and Vienna.
City of Masks by Mary Hoffmann
The first novel in a series of young adult fiction partly set in the fantasy world Talia. Talia is based on Renaissance Italy and the city of Bellezza (Venice) is (according to the synopsis astonishingly evoked with a filmic eye to detail.
Fever of Animals by Miles Allinson
Venice plays only a minor role in this novel about an australian trying to unravel the mysteries of a Romanian painter’s – and ultimately his own – secret life. All along the australian is haunted by thoughts of his ex-girlfriend, Alice, and the trip they took to Venice that ended their relationship.
Losing Venice by Scott Stavrou
A travel marketing executive is called to Venice to help craft the Venice Tourism Council’s new campaign. As he gets to know Venice’s colorful campos and canals, his relationship with Venice grows more complex.
Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers
A retired British history teacher takes a six-month rental on a modest apartment in Venice. Her adventures turn into a rich story of the explosive possibilities of change in all of us at any time.
Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
Five short stories exploring the ideas of love, music and the passing of time. The one named ‘Crooner’ is about a fading American singer who serenades his wife from a gondola in Venice.
Perverzion by Yurii Andrukhovych
Ukrainian novel that tells the tragicomic last days of a poet in Venice.
Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant
The story of a secret, heartbreaking love affair.
Serenissima by Erica Jong
A literary fantasy about an American actress, who goes to Venice, falls in love with William Shakespeare and wishes herself back in time to become the bard’s muse and lover.
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
Romance about a journalist, who is in Venice to cover the opening of the Biennale. He meets the spellbinding Laura, who completely transforms his few days in the city.
Meet me in Venice by Elizabeth Adler
Romance/mystery novel where two cousins living in different countries are thrown into a crazy situation in Venice.
One Summer in Venice by Nicky Pellegrino
In the maze of Venice’s canals, bridges and piazzas, one woman sets herself a goal to find the ten things that could be the key to her happiness
Strangers by Anita Brookner
The story about a retired solitary man who goes to Venice and meets a mysterious woman who shakes up his routine.
Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark
Comedy of betrayals; intrigue; triangular love affairs; murders; international spy-craft; adultery; parental interference; the sweet careless rapture of youth; and unmarked graves set in Venice.
This list was last updated in September 2019