Inspire a feeling of wanderlust from your living room with destination novels (or bring on your holiday for alfresco reading) says Áine Toner
History buffs with a penchant for island-hopping will be glued to Victoria Hislop’s stories, transporting you to a Greece full of colour, which began with her 2005 debut novel The Island (Headline Review) — which gives a vivid description of Cretan life, weaving in the story of Greece’s leper colony on Spinalonga. The sequel, One August Night (Headline Review) reveals what happened when the leper colony closed and how its inhabitants fared when they returned to the mainland.
Those looking for a modern classic should opt for Louis de Bernieres’ 1994’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Vintage). The titular Italian captain is positioned in the Ionaian island of Cephalonia during World War Two. He meets and falls in love with Pelagia, a physician’s daughter, but she’s already betrothed to local Mandras.
Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (Bloomsbury) is based on Homer’s Iliad and tells the story of Achilles’ companion Patroclus as much as the historic hero. She gives a fresh perspective on a much discussed tale and this modern take makes it very readable.
For some escapism, bag Mandy Baggot’s light-hearted romcom Staying Out For Summer (Head Of Zeus), which sees a young nurse’s holiday in Corfu throw up some romantic possibilities with the village doctor.
Fancy a city break to Paris? Amanda Bestor-Siegal’s debut The Caretakers (Little, Brown) focuses on several women in a wealthy suburb of Paris and an event that changes their lives, told through six women who are living very different city existences. Film rights have been snapped up by Emma Stone’s production company.
If your literary tastes run to prize winners, pick up a copy of Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See (Fourth Estate). Teenager Marie Laure LeBlanc lost her sight aged six, so her father, Daniel, made a scale model of their Parisian neighbourhood to help her get her bearings. He does the same when they must flee the city ahead of the German invasion. They arrive at her great-uncle Etienne’s house, carrying a very special (and priceless, and infamous) package to hide from the Nazis. But what happens when a French girl meets a German boy? There’s a reason why this won the Carnegie Media for fiction and the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Peter Mayle’s witty classic memoir A Year In Provence (Penguin), in which he charts his funny and sometimes fraught experiences of moving into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in Southern France, will bring a huge ray of sunshine to travellers and non-travellers alike.
Like a thriller? Opt for Lucy Foley’s The Paris Apartment (HarperCollins), focused on No 12 Rue des Amants, a Parisian apartment block that’s not within sight of the Eiffel Tower. On the outside, close to the Seine and the hustle and bustle of city life, it’s a place wherein so many could aspire to live, but on the inside, nothing goes unseen — and everyone has a story…
Set between war-torn Paris and the present day Riviera, Natasha Lester’s The Riviera House (Sphere, August 18), is a breathtakingly beautiful story of love and sacrifice. When Remy discovers she’s mysteriously inherited a house on the French Riviera, she wants answers. There, she’s shocked to uncover a catalogue of the artwork known to have been stolen by the Nazis during WWII… but why is one so familiar?
As a former travel guide in Rome who lived in Italy for many years, Donna Leon has an insider’s eye for detail. Her new novel Give Unto Others (Hutchinson Heinemann), in which she examines the corruption within an Italian charitable organisation, weaves in the magnificent architecture of Venice, the constant, mouth-watering presence of food, the loving and loyal Brunetti family, and the sense of menace which lurks around the corner.
Timeless classic novels which will have you salivating over Italy include A Room With A View by E M Forster (Penguin Classics), where a young woman’s repressed, rigid upbringing is thrown off balance when she visits Florence, a city which offers a wealth of romantic opportunities; and The Portrait Of A Lady by Henry James (William Collins), featuring beautiful descriptions of both Florence and Rome.
If something more modern is of interest, One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle (Quercus) may be of note. Katy travels to the Amalfi Coast and while there, she sees someone remarkably familiar — and this seemingly younger, healthier version of her deceased mum Carol takes Katy under her wing, and shows her a life she’d never thought of before. Familiar?
Even though Dune (Hodder Paperbacks) is a sci-fi book, Stadlandet in Norway comes into the frame in the latest film adaptation to let the imagination take readers to ‘Caladan’, the stark, inhospitable, windswept planet 20 light years from Earth, first created by author Frank Herbert in 1965. The film has boosted tourism to the region, but as well as reimagining the book’s dramatic setting, visitors may also want to follow the winding road of the Atlantic Ocean Road, as another film icon James Bond does in No Time To Die.
Alexandra Heminsley’s Under the Same Stars (Sphere, July 21), sees two half-sisters who have never met before battling to survive a year on a remote, dangerous but beautiful Norwegian island. Readers will love to feel marooned on the island with lead character, Maggie.
THE UK/ CHANNEL ISLANDS
From the Shetlands to Cornwall, no literary stone will be left unturned, whether you want to investigate Brighton with top crime writer Peter James, through his famous Det Supt Roy Grace, or Edinburgh with Rebus creator Ian Rankin, or disappear into romance and relationships in Cornwall with Fern Britton, Judy Finnigan and a raft of other novelists.
If you’re keen on exploring Britain’s lost cities, Matthew Green’s factual book Shadowlands: A Journey Through Britain (Faber & Faber) takes you on an atmospheric tour of ghost towns and disappeared villages, from a Neolithic settlement in Orkney buried in sand, to a medieval city swept from a shingle island.
The Island Home by Libby Page (Orion) is set on a remote Scottish island in the Hebrides, based on the Isle of Eigg, in which a woman returns with her daughter to the island where she grew up and where her family might mend itself. Her descriptions of the dramatic landscapes, the black lochs, coves and jagged hills will make you feel like you’ve been there — or certainly make you want to visit.
Continuing the Scottish theme, Close To Where The Heart Gives Out by Malcolm Alexander (Michael O’Mara) charts the true story of a young vet’s move from suburban Glasgow to Eday (with a population of 125) in the Orkneys, where he provides a deeply moving account of island life.
Those considering visiting the east of England should look out for writer Elly Griffiths, whose Norfolk is a huge part of the storyline of each novel in her bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway crime series, the latest of which, The Locked Room (Quercus), sees her archaeologist sleuth helping solve a series of mysterious deaths.
Meanwhile, award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves, already well known for her Northumberland detective Vera and Shetland Island mystery series, has her sights set on North Devon for her latest book, The Heron’s Cry (Pan Macmillan). It’s set in a glorious summer packed with tourists, where Detective Matthew Venn investigates an elaborately staged murder among a group of artists.
Small towns can deliver large crimes, as witnessed in Robert Gold’s Twelve Secrets (Sphere). The author has delivered an intriguing tale of a shocking teenage tragedy that continues to torture investigative journalist Ben Harper, and send shockwaves through the generations of families who live in the fictional village of Haddley. If you like Broadchurch, you’ll love this.
Cathy Thomas’ Islanders (Virago) has been credited as a beautiful and darkly funny book of linked stories covering two decades in the lives of a group of people on the island of Guernsey. Their desperate need for connection — and the lengths they’re willing to go to — are depicted with empathy and dry humour.
It’s the setting of so many inspiring reads — from Sally Rooney’s emotionally charged Normal People (Faber & Faber), about the complex relationship between two teenagers Connell and Marianne and set in and around Dublin, to bestselling author Marian Keyes’ latest exploration of families, friendships and relationships in Again, Rachel (Michael Joseph), her sequel to Rachel’s Holiday.
Turning north, we expect big things from Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen (John Murray). Maeve Murray is desperate to get out of Northern Ireland and to London to fulfil her dream of becoming a journalist. She’s depending on her exam results to be her ticket across the water but before that, she’s got the summer to work and save — consider it as Derry Girls in a shirt-making factory.
We love our northern noir here so those wanting something reflecting the darker side of life should absolutely pick up Brian McGilloway’s The Empty Room (Constable) and Sharon Dempsey’s The Midnight Killing (HarperCollins).
It’s not all fly and flop in the Caribbean, as readers discover in What A Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You by Sharma Taylor (Virago, out July 7). It’s a novel set in Kingston, Jamaica, about a woman who is reunited with her son, 18 years after giving him as a baby to the rich couple she worked for before they left. A story of belonging and identity, it brings together a chorus of voices to evoke Jamaica’s dance halls and criminal underworld, at the heart of which is a mother’s love for her son.
Additionally, make sure Jasmine Sealy’s The Island of Forgetting (The Borough Press) is on your to-read list. Iapetus is haunted by the memory of his father while his son Atlas is dreaming of a life far removed from his reality. Meanwhile, Atlas’s daughter Calypso is struggling to find her place in an unforgiving society while and her son Nautilus is grappling with various parts of a complex identity. Each longs to escape, but can they?
Classic fans should — if they haven’t already — ensure a copy of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea is on their to-be-read pile. Considered the prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jean Eyre, it’s set in the post-colonial Caribbean and tells the story of Antoinette Cosway, a young white Creole trapped between the island customs of Jamaicans and a European patriarchy. It’s one that will continually have an effect no matter how many times you read it.
Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings was a 2015 Booker winner and rightly so. In Jamaica, 1976, seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught. The novel looks at the aftermath, through 1980s New York and a changed Jamaica in the 1990s.
Anyone planning a safari should pick up a copy of The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony (Pan), a South African conservationist who accepted a herd of ‘rogue’ elephants to his Thula Thula game reserve. Risking his life to bond with the elephants, he assumes a hugely special relationship with the herd, the wise matriarch Nana and her warrior sister Frankie. This ultimately heart-warming recollection sheds great light on the emotional intelligence of these majestic animals.
A book beloved by Weekend is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction ‘Winners of Winners.’ As the Biafran War engulfs, three unlikely people are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they could only dream. Meet houseboy Ugwu, young woman Olanna who has forsaken a life of privilege for love and shy English writer Richard, who adores Olanna’s twin sister.
More recently, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, described as a bombshell of a book, has appeared on several award shortlists, winning the 2019 LA Times Award for Best Crime Thriller and Capital Crime Debut Author of the Year 2019. When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her — and it’s not a bottle of wine and some chocolate. She loves her sister and family always comes first, right? Until a little thing called love gets in the way…
A land full of colour, culture and fascinating history, many writers have been drawn to the storyboard of India. Arundhati Roy won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997 for her first novel The God Of Small Things (Harper Perennial), a story about Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala.
And who can resist Salman Rushdie’s acclaimed Booker Prize-winning second novel, Midnight’s Children (Vintage Classics)? This much-loved historical fantasy reflects on the issues India faced post-independence, including culture, language and religion.
It may be a decade old but Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter is every bit as insightful and evocative. LuLing Young is in her eighties, and begins to write down all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China. She is beginning to accept that old age has arrived but wants her memories recounted. As daughter Ruth — who’s got her own issues — moves in, she learns of what her mother went through and how the path of her life was drastically changed by another.
Edward Rutherfurd’s 2021 novel, China, is an epic tale chronicling the great struggle for power during the clashing of East and West, from the Opium Wars in 1839 through the Taiping revolt, the burning of the Summer Palace, the Boxer Rebellion, and the long rule of the Dragon Empress, culminating in the momentous revolution of 1911. Rich in detail, it’ll give all readers pause for thought.