Reading a book or a poem in the place it’s about: it’s an obvious thing to do, if only one step less irrational than carving your initials on a writer’s birthplace. But what has reason got to do with it? Imagined approximations, talismanic associations: they do have power. In a chuck-out box in the porch of an Oxford second-hand bookshop, I once found a paperback of Stendhal’s De l’amour, inscribed ‘I Murdoch, Somerville, 1938’. I gave it to someone but feel fonder of it in memory than of almost any book still on my shelves.
It’s unclear, all the same, quite what one is doing, say, lugging Don Quixote around La Mancha. The story is no less obvious and repetitious in Spain than anywhere else. Perhaps there’s a hope that, like some kinds of wine and food, it will taste better closer to its