Books, Discussion

Getting a ‘national’ vibe from a novel


Have you ever read a book that definitely felt to you like it was a product of a particular country? Maybe the style of humor felt (for example) especially Croatian to you, or the tone seemed quintessentially Italian.

Of course, any opinions will be influenced by your personal background. Regional influences felt strongly by one reader might be go unseen or ignored by another. Personally, I’m inundated with American culture on a daily basis – so it can be difficult for me to pinpoint books that would seem especially ‘American’ to any international friends.

Nicole from Bitches with Books lives in the UK. She just discussed a book that had a very ‘American’ feel to her: Chuck Palahnuik’s ‘Invisible Monsters’. In the comments, she compared two authors whose prose had different kinds of an ‘American’ quality to them:

John Steinbeck also feels very ‘American’ to me, but his writing is completely different from Palahniuk’s style. …[I]f you think of the specific kind of ‘rush’ you get in NYC (as opposed to the kind you get in London or Paris or elsewhere); the billboards and lights and punchiness in the way people talk and, very importantly, everything in your face, that’s kind of what I mean. It feels like it uses a very punchy commercial language to satirise the very same.

I like the idea of comparing a city’s “speed of living” with an author’s particular tone and cadence. Chuck Palahniuk isn’t from NYC, but I can see where the comparison is coming from: as far as I can tell, everything he writes is brusque and in a state of constant movement. Nicole continued:

Palahniuk’s way of talking is exaggeration on full blast. Whereas someone like Steinbeck is very subtle and slow but to the point. His writing feels like the dust bowl and is very earnest. Palahniuk’s feels like each word is a salesman trying to sell you something and they may or may not be lying to you go to this web-site. It’s that smarmy cashier who says as you’re leaving the shop “Missing you already! ;D” And British satire, by contrast, is more sarcastic and dry than Palahniuk.

(As a side note, Nicole’s impression of NYC reminds me why I was never eager to live there!)

What books feel especially ‘American’, ‘British’, or ‘[other nationality]’ to you?
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  • Reply Cait @ Paper Fury November 20, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Oh yes!! I totally get this! Although mostly because I know where the book is set? But if it’s like a fantasy or dystopian world or something, yesss…I do notice when it feels like a specific country. I can usually pick the nationality of the author too. XD Like I always felt Disruption by Jessica Shirvington had a really Australian vibe despite being set in America…and WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT, the author is actually an Aussie!! Called it. xD
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    • Paloma
      Reply Paloma November 20, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      Awesome! I think I need to make an effort to read some Aussie authors 🙂

  • Reply Ardis November 20, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Hi Paloma, I read a lot of British books. I think Jo Jo Moyes books, such as Me Before You, have a very British feel to them. I think it is because the characters in her books are often working class types and they feel authentic. Great topic. I am a new follower via Bloglovin. My blog is
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    • Paloma
      Reply Paloma November 20, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks, Ardis! I’ve never read any Jo Jo Moyes yet, despite seeing her books everywhere – I probably ought to go check her out.

  • Reply Alyssa @ The Devil Orders Takeout November 21, 2015 at 2:00 am

    … to be honest, all books feel British to me unless they’re very American, although I’ve had a couple of French-ish books. And then there’s the handful which is clearly set somewhere else, like Memoirs of a Geisha, or World War Z, which is very international. So I do get a very strong national vibe from some books! I think that I write with a very Chinese vibe, which, y’know, is no surprise.

    PS: New to your blog and loving it! Code for: totally following you on Bloglovin’ (get it? OMG, sorry for the terrible joke.)
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    • Paloma
      Reply Paloma November 23, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks, Alyssa! Your blog name and tagline are fantastic, by the way 🙂

  • Reply Retrospect #99: November 22 | Word Revel November 22, 2015 at 11:36 am

    […] Paloma @ Pages and Pineapples thought about getting a “national” vibe from a novel. […]

  • Reply Lianne @ November 22, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Interesting post! It’s quite coincidental too because I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk (great book, by the way) and I was cracking up because I found it so quintessentially English from the dialogue and just everything about it xD I’m trying to think of other examples, but definitely whenever I read something by a Russian author, especially the classics, it does leave me thinking “Ahh, yes, this is definitely a Russian novel.” It’s hard to explain that in particular, there’s just something about the tone of their writing and the content and ideas that’s just distinctly Russian to me.

    I do ponder a bit about this when it comes to Canadian literature. From what I’ve read so far from Canadian lit (which isn’t much, oops), it doesn’t strike me per se as distinctly Canadian in that the particular experiences of those books aren’t the same as mine. The identity and the shared history, yes, but I guess the rural/less urban stuff not so much (but they are eye-openers, given how vast the country is). Definitely the more urban-setting books like the mystery-thriller novels by Robert Rotenberg are distinctly Canadian because of the city life, cultural elements, etc. I’ll have to reflect on this further though, I’m sure there’s something more Canadian about those other titles and I just missed it 😉
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    • Paloma
      Reply Paloma November 23, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      I like your points about Canadian literature. I’ve realized recently that I (shamefully) don’t know much about Canadian culture/literature as an entity distinct from American culture/literature – to my ears we have the same accent, similar histories, and similar ideals… if someone gave me a mixed pile of Canadian-authored & American-authored novels and forbade me from looking up the authors, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell which authors were from which country without help.

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