Argentinian thrillers, Tuscan farce, love in the Australian outback. Wherever you're jetting off to this summer, there's a story to suit your surroundings.
by: Lucinda Everett
If you’re joining the jet set on the Riviera, pick up Tender is the Night, F Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of Twenties’ debauchery, charting the demise of Dick Driver and his hedonistic pals. Fans of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat may like the next title in her “food trilogy”, Blackberry Wine, in which a blocked bestselling author buys a French farmhouse hoping to recreate his childhood summers.
If a summer romance is looking unlikely, E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, in which Lucy Honeychurch escapes Edwardian England for a Florentine fling, should provide some vicarious titillation. And for a bit of Tuscan farce, pack Cooking with Fernet Branca, James Hamilton-Paterson’s comedy of errors that sees solitude-seeking expatriates Gerald and Marta become begrudgingly close neighbours.
No suitcase (or Kindle) full of Spanish fiction should be without Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece Don Quixote, which follows the adventures of a chivalry-obsessed knight errant. Those with more contemporary tastes should try Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Barcelona-set The Man of my Life, a gripping instalment in the series centred on Pepe Carvalho, a fiery detective with a penchant for fine food and women.
Those intrigued by the US’s troubled past should read Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which follows Sethe and her daughter Denver as they rebuild their lives after slavery. And if you’re heading to the City of Angels, Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective classic The Big Sleep is a must. The first in the Philip Marlowe series, its grim violence and ingenious twists play out on perfectly depicted LA streets.
There are few summer novels that can beat Louis de Bernières’s wartime love story, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, for sun-drenched landscapes and good old-fashioned yearning. People-watchers will love Panos Karnezis’s Little Infamies, which peeks gleefully into the lives of one village’s inhabitants. Expect priests, prostitutes and Homer-reciting parrots.
Those in search of grit should pack Pedro Juan Gutiérrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy, a visceral novel that ventures down Havana’s dark alleys and spotlights its lusty inhabitants. The product of a (slightly) more innocent era, Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana is a classic black comedy about James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman turned secret agent.
All the Pretty Horses is the first book in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, a coming-of-age epic, which follows adolescent Texan cowboys John and Lacey into the beautiful, brutal Mexican landscape. Foodies, opt for Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Each chapter in this story of forbidden love begins with a Mexican recipe that is prepared as the chapter’s events unfold.
Set in Buenos Aires, Tomás Eloy Martínez’s hallucinatory thriller The Tango Singer joins student Bruno Cadogan on the hunt for an elusive tango legend. Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch recounts the adventures of a flighty Argentinian writer forced to knuckle down as a salesman before getting jobs in an asylum and a circus
New Zealand and Australia
New Zealand’s South Island beaches are the setting for Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Bone People, a fable that combines Maori myth with dazzling descriptions. For a rollicking read on an Aussie beach, pack Colleen McCullough’s saga The Thorn Birds, which charts the life of Meggie Cleary as she grows up on a sheep station in the Australian outback.
Set in lush Thai landscapes, Mischa Berlinski’s Fieldwork is a nimble adventure story centred on one journalist’s quest to clear the name of an anthropologist wrongfully accused of murder. A must for any backpacker, Alex Garland’s The Beach follows Richard as he infiltrates a seemingly Utopian community in a secret beach paradise, only to find himself part of a brutal Lord of the Flies-style “democracy”.
Those journeying south must pack The God of Small Things, a tragic story of devoted twins in which rural Kerala is brought to life by Arundhati Roy’s exquisite prose. Crowned the Best of 40 Years of the Booker Prize, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a history of Indian independence, as told by Saleem Sinai, a mixed-race boy born at the moment India became its own country.
Anyone visiting the historic site of Hisarlik should enjoy The Fall of Troy, Peter Ackroyd’s story of the ancient city’s excavation by obsessive and devious archaeologist Heinrich Obermann (based on the similarly natured real life excavator Heinrich Schliemann). And in Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, a group of unlikely travelling companions journey from Istanbul to Trebizond via a host of oddballs.