Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Only Way Is Wessex

I never paid much attention to Michael Gilbert until last year.  I had seen his name around and knew of a few of his books but for the most part, he was not on my radar.  Until I learned about the short stories Gilbert wrote about Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens.  Once I read the two collections of stories I fell hard for Michael Gilbert.

I just started reading his 1984 novel The Black Seraphim.  It concerns a young pathologist suffering from exhaustion who leaves London and heads to the cathedral town of Melchester to spend a month recovering.  Dr. James Scotland's vacation does not go according to plan when there is a murder in the town and he is drawn into it.  I have become a compulsive Googler of things while I read and I was puzzled as to why I could not find Melchester on a map of England.  I knew I had heard of the place before.  It sounds like a real place.  After a bit of research, I figured out that it was from Thomas Hardy that I knew of Melchester, from Jude the Obscure.  Over his writing career Hardy created a fictionalized region of England called Wessex for his books and Gilbert had used the Wessex town of Melchester for The Black Seraphim. (Also, Hardy's wife had a dog named Wessex, a terrier.)

I love the idea of using someone else's fictional universe as a setting.  Gilbert's appropriation of a place from Wessex has had me thinking of other great fictional places.  Some of my all-time favorites:

Gotham City
Castle Rock
Stars Hollow
Grand Rapids


Louis XIV, the Sun King (Nick Jones) said...

Food for thought here. I've had quite a lot of hits at EE from people looking up Studley Constable, the fictional Norfolk village in Jack Higgins' The Eagle Has Landed (and the film adaptation). P. M. Hubbard came up with some plausible place names – Lodstone in Flush as May, Pelant in Picture of Millie, Dunstreet in Hive of Glass. My favourite fictional place, though, is Villeperce – or Villeperce-sur-Seine – the French village where Tom Ripley has taken up residence in Patricia Highsmith's Ripley sequels – especially George and Marie's bar-tabac. I wish I could pay it a visit, sit at the counter and drink a beer.

Louis XIV, the Sun King (Nick Jones) said...

D'oh! And how could we forget: Lamperdown, the North Downs village home to Calder and Behrens!

Book Glutton said...

Excellent examples. I spent a fair amount of time looking for Lamperdown on a map. The problem with a list like this is that after you draw up a few places and stop, you start to think of even more and better places. I kept thinking of TV even though I wanted places from literature.