Why do books matter so much when you’re in a hot country, far from home? Well, there’s the obvious reason: a cracking good read, whether your preference is a coroner elbow-deep in a murder victim’s tripe or a ditzy rom-com heroine fretting that she’s ruined the first date with that perfect guy by spilling her wine and crying over her ex. But a book can offer so much more.
Bug Killer – You hear an ominous zzz by your ear. You lift your Marian Keyes/Martin Amis and splat. Another mosquito’s evil plan to turn you into a join-the-dots drawing is foiled. (After my initial glee I can’t help thinking about Mrs Mozzy and all the baby mozzies waiting at home …)
Chat Deflector – I am a magnet for chatters. I have that sort of face, so I’m told. Laid out on my sun-lounger like a pagan sacrifice I am easy prey for nice couples from Birmingham who want to tell me all about their flight, or disgruntled women who long to reel off a list of gripes about their partners/children/5:2 diets. A book is a shield, a forcefield, a Trespassers will be Prosecuted sign.
Magic Carpet – If we’re all painfully, horribly honest we can admit that holidays aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. The pool’s splashy and noisy and you just know that the little kid in the red shorts is a covert wee-er; the breakfast buffet is a tad samey by day five; your other half winces constantly from the third degree sunburn he sustained on the first day despite your entreaties not to overdo it. Furthermore, if you have one child or ten, you know that there’s no such thing as a holiday until the last one leaves home; now they are all business trips. Just lower your eyes to your book and you can tune out the bedlam and the demands and the wincing, and travel to a tense courtroom where a brilliant lawyer is taking down the bad guy, or listen in as a regency buck woos an heiress, or witness Mr Bump fall down the stairs. (Hey. It’s your book. I’m not here to judge.)
Boredom Buster – All that lying down, with food and drink ferried to your side, as a golden sun travels o’er an azure sky gets a bit, well, boring. Conversation at dinner can peter out because you’ve already said all you can about the weather/the view/the waiter’s bum. A book lends a sense of purpose to the hours spent on your back, slowly turning your legs to leather. Then at dinner, you can read out the best bits over the langoustines.
To help inspire your next summer read, here are my top 5:
Any list like this must take into account that for many of us summer reading time doesn’t mean lounging by a pool while a pert-bottomed waiter brings us a cocktail. It can mean a snatched half hour in an overcast garden next to a slowly deflating paddling pool. With this in mind, here are my current favourites, all equally at home in Barbados or Basingstoke.
A little domestic noir to usher a thrillingly chilly cloud across your blue sky. A child psychotherapist, with problems of her own, tries to help the sullen daughter of a missing witness in a high profile fraud case. Contemporary and sharp, with much to say about modern life alongside a teasing, tricky tale.
If you can’t get away this summer, Kate Furnivall’s evocative tale of pre-war Italy will warm your limbs. The book is both a love story and a tale about a specific time in history, but it wears its research lightly, making for a lush and satisfying read.
Gloomy title, but this one will make you laugh, even while the mozzies feast on your extremities. A giggle in every line, as George dies but doesn’t move on to another plane. He hangs around, invisible, to witness the reaction of his large and bonkers family, and to watch the hapless police investigation into his death. Endlessly funny and oddly moving in its depiction of how marriage can trap unsuitable partners for life.
Amber is beautiful but selfish. Why did she and her devoted husband suddenly up and leave her sumptuous London home? Their departure means Tabby and ? can snap up the house for a bargain price, little knowing that this house move will signal all sorts of turmoil in their lives. Luxuriate in the descriptions of this plush, desirable home as, along with Tabby, you become obsessed with unravelling the scant clues Amber left in her wake.
How about a little horror with your siesta? Nobody does slow-burn chills like Stephen King, and Pet Sematary has all his usual elements – demonic creatures shuffling through the darkness and pin-sharp characterisation. Somehow you’ll believe a sane man’s descent into the belief that he can bring the dead back to life. The empathy makes the terrible repercussions all the more painful (and exciting) to read.