Have you ever jetted off to the Med with an unfinished, crumpled Austen novel in hand, eager to wind up those last few chapters, only to find that, while sat in front of a lunch of grilled octopus and cool retsina your mind is wandering to the misty heath surrounding the Bennetts’ home? Before you know it, you’re plotting your autumn wardrobe, your shiny back-to-school shoes, and an October trip to the Yorkshire Downs. Looking forward is lovely of course, but before you know it you’ve wished those all-too-brief holiday moments away. Take a leaf from our book (not sorry) and choose your brain food accordingly, ensuring that you eek every last drop of sun-drenched wist from those hours spent sun lounger-bound.
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea for a Cuban recess
Hemingway’s tale of a steely, steadfast philosophising fisherman and his battle with a giant marlin in the Cuban waters of the Gulf Stream is a captivating and tightly written novel. With his spare, inch-perfect prose, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature for this masterpiece, and it’s heart-wrenching stuff. You will emerge emotionally exhausted, half-baked by every scorching minute of Santiago’s three-day-long battle with the prize fish, and fall asleep envisioning the same African lions of his dreams. Read this on a terrace in Havana as the old man’s sea sparkles in the distance.
Read Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse in the South of France
Sagan published this bestseller at just 19 years old. This novel charts the devilish deeds of wealthy and careless teen Cécile who competes with her father’s lovers for his attention. Flitting between disturbing his relationships and engaging in a slew of her own (there is an excellent rendez-vous in a rowing boat out in the glittering Mediterranean), this story paints a heady love triangle amid the saturated vistas of the French Riviera. Cécile’s father leads his life by an Oscar Wilde quote: “Sin is the only note of vivid colour that persists in the modern world”. These sentiments fuel Cécile’s every action – “I believed that I could base my life on it,” she says. It’s the perfect read for those with salty skin and long summer nights in mind.
Take Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea to Jamaica
Written in 1966, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea is a response to Jane Eyre, and styled as a prequel to the 1847 Brontë novel. It tells the story of Antoinette Cosway – later known as Bertha, the wife that Mr Rochester keeps in the attic – in her home of Jamaica as she grows up, meets and marries Rochester (though he is never explicitly named so), and later travels with him to England. The heady and veiled prose makes for an intriguing read, matching the heat and mystery of the island and its landscape and architecture. Though Wide Sargasso Sea doesn’t make for light reading – Antoinette’s beginnings as an outsider in her own country, subsequent marriage and descent into madness could not be further away from your average Caribbean beach read – Rhys’ novel unpacks the politics of being a woman and a wife in postcolonial Jamaica. Be sure to have Jane Eyre lined up next, which you’ll read in a whole new light.
Take John Fowles’ The Magus Greek island-hopping
Set on the fictional island of Phraxos (based on the island of Spetses), Fowles’ first novel tells the story of Nicholas Urfe, an obnoxious Oxford graduate who takes a teaching post at the island’s local boarding school. Urfe's initial existential crisis takes place against a lush, mountainous backdrop before he runs into Maurice Conchis and his mysteriously palatial, art-encrusted island estate. Manipulation and mystery consume our lead character’s summer as the cicadas chirp and he glimpses a dark truth that disturbingly, comes from himself. A compelling portrayal of the majesty steeped in these ancient isles, there’s no better place to read this tome than in situ.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, for an adventure in Tuscany
You don’t need to read E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View in the middle of a Florentine poppy field in the hazy heat of late summer to grasp its sensuous charm, but if you happen to be travelling through Tuscany this summer, you could do worse than to take this 1908 novel with you. Set between the Italian region and south-east Edwardian England, Forster juxtaposes a fiery Italian spirit with straitlaced British chasteness with all the skill of an author who both knows and loves each. Perhaps in equal measure.
For those unhappily stuck in colder climes, the 1985 film serves an escapist very well, too. “I have a theory that there is something in the Italian landscapes which inclines even the most stolid nature to romance,” remarks Judi Dench, as novelist Eleanor Lavish, to Maggie Smith’s Charlotte Bartlett, to the tune of an opera, while their charge wanders off for that kiss. “It reminds me somewhat of the country around Shropshire,” the chaperone replies dreamily. If only Shropshire were this steamy.
Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion, to read on a sunlounger in LA
Set in the Hollywood Hills during the late 1960s, Didion’s razor-sharp prose recounts failed model-turned-actress Maria Wyeth’s psychological decline, traced though the loss of her young child and a set of problematic relationships with drugs, men and liquor. Bite-sized chapters make this book infinitely digestable, although some of the prose is by no means an easy read. We’ll leave you with a small taste of the author’s inimitable way with words: “‘I want a very large steak,’ she said to Les Goodwin in a restaurant on Melrose at eight o’clock that night. ‘And before the very large steak I want three drinks. And after the steak I want to go somewhere with very loud music.’ ‘Like where?’ ‘I don’t know where. You ought to know where. You know a lot of places with loud music.’ ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ‘I am just very very very tired of listening to you all.’”
Take Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha to Kyoto, Japan
Set in Kyoto, cinematic 1997 novel Memoirs of Geisha, written by American author Arthur Golden, plays into countless established tropes about Japanese culture. And problematic though many of these Westernised ideas about life as a house servant-turned-geisha circa World War Two might be at times, it’s difficult to resist their charm nonetheless. The story moves from the fishing village of Yoroido on the coast, through to beautiful Kyoto, and the descriptions of seemingly ordinary scenes, be they in ornate interiors, or on blossom-strewn streets, are breathtaking – ideal reading material for a tea ceremony of your own in any