I love a good book on holiday and I’ll read anything from ‘chick lit’ to classics. But I always find it more rewarding if I find a story that is also a well written classic.
Of course, taste is subjective but I’ve complied a list of some of my favourites that I believe are perfect for the beach or lazy days in the garden. Many are classics and therefore written well enough to feel rewarding but they are also not too heavy to use up too many brain cells!
Let me know if you’ve read any!
1) Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
This has been described as a parody to ‘The Darling Buds of May’ and I would agree. It’s a very funny story about a no-nonsense heroine, Flora Poste who visits her distant relatives at the isolated Cold Comfort Farm. The farm is badly run by Aunt Ada Doom and the Starkadders but they are soon shaken up by Flora’s metropolitan ways. I love Flora and the way she deals so assertively with them all.
2) Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Everyone was reading this on holiday when it came out in the 90s. Then it came out as a film but the book is so much better. I love that it’s both a love and war history story and it also has lots of humour. Set on the Greek Island of Cephalonia in 1941, Italian Army Captain Antonio Corelli meets and falls in love with Pelagia, the daughter of the local physician, Dr Iannis. It successfully weaves a beautiful story about love and humanity with sometimes quite harrowing war scenes that are based on real-life events.
3) Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
You might love or hate this as sometimes it’s a bit glib but I read it when I was single and at a bit of a crossroads in my life and found it an inspiration. It recounts the true story of the American author who ditched her conventional life, including husband to begin a quest to ‘find herself.’ Her journey includes spending time eating loads of lush food in Rome, finding enlightenment in India and peace and love in Bali. Full of aphorisms but I like it!
4) The Beach by Alex Garland
I read this when it came out in the late 90s and loved it. It was such a cult classic. It’s so much deeper than the film (as usual with books but I also liked the film!) Set in Thailand, it is the story of a young backpacker’s search for a legendary, idyllic and isolated beach untouched by tourism and his time there in its small, international community of backpackers. I remember it as edgy and gripping. Might have to read it again this summer!
5) The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
This is a beautifully written novel about love, humanity and war. The book follows four people brought together at an Italian villa during World War II. The ‘English Patient’ an unrecognisably burned man, his Canadian Army nurse, a Sikh British Army sapper, and a Canadian thief. The story occurs during the North African Campaign and centres on the incremental revelations of the patient’s actions prior to his injuries, and the emotional effects of these revelations on the other characters.
6) Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
I love any Du Maurier novel but this one is particularly evocative and romantic. Bored housewife, Dona, Lady St. Columb escapes her shallow life in London court society and retreats to the family estate in Cornwall. There she finds that the property, unoccupied for several years, is being used as a base by a notorious French pirate who has been terrorising the Cornish coast. Dona and the pirate, Jean-Benoit Aubéry fall in love.
7) The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund Du Waal
This is a fascinating historical read based on the true story of the Jewish Ephrussi family and a collection of Japanese ‘netsuke’ – tiny wood and ivory carvings. The netsuke unlock a story which takes us on a journey through generations of the family against a backdrop of a tumultuous century. I was gripped throughout and I love a story which is both personal memoir and historical fact.
8) The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
Set in Lyme Regis in the 19th century but written in 1969, the novel explores the fraught relationship of gentleman and amateur naturalist Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, the former governess and ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’ with whom he falls in love. The novel explores ideas of freedom and romance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the film with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons….any good?
9) Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
The novel is an idyllic account of Lee’s childhood in the village of Slad, Gloucestershire. Set soon after the First World War. It chronicles the traditional village life which disappeared with the advent of new developments, such as the coming of the motor car and relates the experiences of childhood seen from many years later. A wonderfully written book with beautiful imagery. Also worth reading Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.’
10) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the best American classics. Full of beautiful images and thoughtful observation by the narrator Nick Carraway. Set during the ‘Jazz Age’ of the 1920s, Nick takes the reader into a superficially glittering world to encounter ‘The Great Gatsby’ – Jay Gatsby who seemingly has is all but is surrounded by dark secrets and yearns for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan.