I’M ON A FLYING VISIT to Prague. I have been to Prague before, but over twenty years ago, and I’d forgotten how beautiful and unspoilt the place is. And, of course, it being Prague, my thoughts turn almost instantly to Franz Kafka. This powerful association between city and writer is reinforced when I open the hotel minibar and in it find a kind of circular biscuit, a chocolate-covered hazelnut-brittle wafer (yours for 60 crowns, about £2) emblazoned with the writer’s soulful, big-eyed face in tasteful sepia contrasted with the black and gold of the wrapping. “Prague Kafka Oblaten” it says.
This type of immediate connection applies to other writers and other cities, naturally. Dublin and James Joyce; Bath and Jane Austen, Buenos Aires and Jorge Luis Borges, Chicago and Saul Bellow come to mind. As a notional parlour-game one can posit other less obvious ones: Lyme Regis and John Fowles; St Petersburg and Andrei Bely; Trieste and
Istvan Szabo. Or would that be Trieste and Joyce? Or Trieste and Richard Burton? Or Trieste and Rilke? It could be an extension of the game to pitch writers against each other to see who gets to stake the literary claim. What about Edinburgh? Walter Scott or Ian Rankin? Or Robert Louis Stevenson? Or Muriel Spark? – though the last two hightailed it out of their city as soon as was feasible. And who would claim Oxford? Evelyn Waugh? P. D. James? Max Beerbohm? Or New York. Or London. Or Key West. Hours of harmless fun on offer.