I love reading books suited to the season, Christmas books at Christmas, gothic spine chillers during those dark October evenings, and summery books during summer. This summer I haven’t managed to match my books to the season really at all, expect for some of my Truman Capote reading. I read Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove yesterday just as summer seems to be on the way out, talk about timing! The Lemon Grove is a novel I am sure, would happily take its place on many people’s summer books list, but I didn’t like it at all, I finished it very late last night, glad not to have wasted any more than a day on it. I had been lucky enough to win a copy of the Lemon Grove hardback from the Waterstone’s shop in Birmingham. I also have Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave on my kindle. As I’m off to the English seaside myself in a day or two, I had really wanted to read a proper sun drenched book, and from what I had heard, had thought The Lemon Grove might just fit the bill, whether or not I also get around to Instructions on a Heatwave too, remains to be seen. So if you’re looking for a book with a sun drenched feel, where the light and sun practically pour of the pages, here are just a few suggestions.
The Enchanted April – Elizabeth Von Arnim 1922 – Ok so April isn’t summer but I’m including this on my list because of the setting, and the feeling of warmth and sunshine which pervades the novel. Four women who are little more than strangers to one another, and who are not, to begin with, entirely comfortable with one another, share a castle on the Italian riviera for the month of April. In sight of the sea and surrounded by flowers, their holiday in San Salvatore begins to work its magic on them all.
Illyrian Spring – Ann Bridge 1935 – despite the title – I count this as being a sun drenched summery read. Lady Grace Kilmichael is a well-known painter, she is also a 40 something wife and mother. However she is now running away. Grace heads off to the Dalmatian coast and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young artist called Nicholas.
Talking to the dead – Helen Dunmore 1996 – Set during a scorching summer, some difficult, sometimes unlikeable characters come together in a Sussex cottage. An illicit affair, lots of food and a wonderful twist make for a wonderful summery read.
A room with a View – E M Forster 1908 – In my memory the sun is almost always shining in this novel. The beautiful Italian setting, English tourists with Forster’s wonderful sense of place make for a perfect sun drenched read. Even after the characters are returned to England we quickly return to summer.
“But either because the sun was shedding a most glorious heat, or because two of the gentlemen were young in years and the third young in the spirit – for some reason or other a change came over them, and they forgot Italy and Botany and Fate. They began to play. Mr Beebe and Freddy splashed each other. A little deferentially, they splashed George. He was quiet; they feared they had offended him. Then all the forces of youth burst out. He smiled, flung himself at them, splashed them, ducked them, kicked them, muddied them, and drove them out of the pool.”
The Grass Harp – Truman Capote – 1951- I recently read this novella for the Truman Capote summer readathon. The story of a young orphaned boy, the aunts he lives with, and the time he and one aunt escape to a tree house in a chinaberry tree.
In a Summer Season – Elizabeth Taylor – 1961 – One of Elizabeth Taylor’s particularly likeable central characters Kate is a widow with a grown up son, newly married to Dermot a much younger man. As the summer begins Kate prepares for the return of her best friend’s widower Charles and his daughter Araminta. This wonderfully domestic novel has surprisingly sexual undertones, a real feel of the sixties in an upper middle class provincial home. The ending is fabulously dramatic.
The Greengage Summer – Rumer Godden 1958 – Set in the Champagne country of the Marne, it’s the story of 5 siblings staying in a small hotel while their mother is in hospital. The children come under the care of a mysterious Englishman, and are soon involved with several other people attached to the hotel. With its constant feeling of summer and a host of memorable characters, this is a perfect holiday read.
Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver 2000 – A novel which weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of those inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia. It’s probably twelve or thirteen years since I read this novel yet I remember it fondly, so beautifully infused with landscape and the natural world.
Swimming Home – Deborah Levy -2011 – Swimming Home was a Man Booker shortlisted novel from 2011, another novel set during a holiday. Set in 1994, two very middle class families share a French villa. One day during the hot sultry week, they find a naked woman floating in their pool, who claims to have mixed up her holiday dates. Unbelievably she is invited to stay. A taut, psychologically deft little novel, which I enjoyed a lot – though didn’t love as much as some people.
The Last Kings of Sark – Rosa Rankin Gee – 2013 – An impressive debut novel, that I read quite recently. Three young adults are thrown together during a summer on Sark, what happens between them is still being felt years later.
“The world was blond, the wind was warm. These were the days that were golden.”
Bonjour Tristesse- Françoise Sagan – 1954 – Seventeen-year-old Cécile spends her summer in a villa on the French Riviera with her father and his mistress. Later Anne a friend of Cécile‘s dead mother arrives, she soon replaces Elsa (the mistress) in Cécile’s father’s affections, and a jealous Cécile plots to get him back for herself using Elsa to make him jealous. It’s a very long time since I read this novel, but I remember is as being beautiful, sad and evocative.
I am sure there are a lot of books that I could have added to this list – and I am actually quite prepared to edit this list and add any suggestions I may have missed. So if you know of any really cracking good sun drenched books that are a must please let me know.
I will be reviewing The Lemon Grove in due course – but I have several blog posts scheduled for next week first. I may be in the minority but I think better authors have explored similar stories with more subtlety and more class. The cynic in me might say that sea, sun and sex sells, so Helen Walsh is on to a winner. The novel does contain several interesting discussion points however, but I’ll save all that for another time.