Although the e-reader has diminished the problem of which books to take along on your holiday, the choice can still be tough. I hope to help you with this personal selection of books that will help you enjoy your holiday.
Summer and Covid-19 are still with us. This requires novels that are slightly demanding, not too complicated.
John Irving || World According to Garp
I realize that my first choice might not be the most logical one. I have added Garp since it is one of the funniest and most emotional novels I’ve ever read. I forgive it for being demanding and complicated in more than one way: its out of the box characters, jumping from laughing my head off to being in tears and its outcry for tolerance. I loved Garp when I first read it and my old, worn-out copy has been read by many people. Nowadays it no longer leaves my bookcase: it’s too fragile and has been signed by Irving himself. It’s one of those precious things I hope not to forget in case of fire.
Off to another world or time
While reading one is often transported to a different world or time. One of the reasons I got hooked on reading at a young age is that I loved sharing another world or time for a short while. Throughout the years I let myself be taken across the world, back to the past and into the future. Who needs a Tardis when there’s a book?
Jane Austen || Elegance and realism combined
Any of Jane Austen’s novels will take you back some 200 years in time. Looking for a perfect husband might seem outdated to us, independent women of the 2100, the way Austen writes about it makes us long for our own mister D’Arcy: witty, elegant and full of comment on her own time and customs. Jane Austen made her heroines fall for the perfect gentleman of their time, while making sure that her readers understood that the heroines had little choice. We might frown upon the willingness of Elizabeth Benning to fall in love with a man she at first despise, we are not the ones having to live an old maid’s life by lack of the perfect husband.
In 2014 two variations on the theme were published: Joanna Trollope almost hit the mark with a pleasant though just not witty enough re-write of Sense & Sensibility, Jo Baker gave us a view into the world of the servants of the Bennets. I will never look the same at Elizabeth soaking and muddying her clothes knowing what it’ll take to get them clean again.
Arthurian Legends || On brave men and woman
As a teen I got sucked into the Arthurian world. I finished my study of English literature with an end paper on modern versions of the Arthurian matter. The ones that got me hooked as a teen were TH White’s Once and Future King and Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff. The first a fantasy transporting Arthur through times (meeting Robin Hood was rather time-challenged) and even shapes, experiencing life as an ant or a bird. I loved the world White created, knowing very well that the chance of there being such an Arthur was fairly small. Sutcliff delivered the one that could easily have lived: the war commander travelling through the harsh world of 5th century Britain trying to create a better world for his people and himself.
Just after receiving my diploma two novels were published that shed a new light on the Arthurian matter: Mary Stewart added The Wicked Day to her Merlin Trilogy in which for once Mordred was a really nice guy, as much a victim of circumstance as his father. Marion Bradley renewed the story by making her Arthurian novel all about Morgana. Hard to imagine now, remarkable at the start of the eighties.
In 2015 two novels were added to the Arthurian Matter: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and Mary Phillips The Knights of the Lesser Table. In The Buried Giant Ishiguro combined fantasy and chivalry, in it good old Gawain was given the send off this loyal Arthurian knight deserved. Being a sucker for anything Arthurian I loved it; I suspect those readers looking for another Pale Views of Hills or Remains of the Day were slightly disappointed. Marie Phillips turned her Arthurian novel into a comedy, gently commenting on some of the things we take for granted. Her knights of the Round Table were vain and only looking out for number 1, her real heroes were the ones in the background doing their utmost to change the world slightly for the better. In 2020 Lavie Tidhar added an Arthurian world on steroids resembling the maffia and drug cartels.
Fantasy || David Mitchell
I am definitely not a fan of fantasy, Mitchell did manage to transport me to different worlds and times however. I am looking forward to reading his latest this summer:
Looking for some excitement
The time has come for those novels you’ve been avoiding because of their size. With long weeks ahead and time on your hands, this is your chance to read those hefty volumes.
Hilary Mantel || Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies and The Mirror and the Light
What shall I say? There’s a reason Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize for two of her novels about court life during the reign of Henry VIII. We’ll know whether she’ll be given the third shortly. Mantel brings us drama, romance, war on religion and court politics. Mantel also gives us an insight into a man whose name everybody knew but who through her has been made a man of flesh and blood, Oliver Cromwell. Mantel makes it very clear that a king in want of a heir is prepared to take desperate measures. For those few who have no clue as to what will happen to wifes one, two and three Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies will have you on the edge of your seat.
Alexander McCall Smith || The Isabel Dalhousie series
Having read all of the Nr.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series I had to go and look for an alternative. Fortunately Alexander McCall Smith had an another fabulous woman waiting for me: Isabel Dalhousie. Philosopher and keen on helping people. In the Sunday Philosophy Club series we follow Isabel and the people she loves, a small touch of philosophy included.
Having worked hard, experiencing stress etc. etc. the best way to start your time off, is a feel good novel. Nothing to worry about, just to dream along with the heroine who faces all kinds of troubles. I give you three of my all time favourites.
Her sense of fun, the fact that she writes pretty well and the ever so British sphere Fforde manages to create make for amusing feel good novels that are absolutely superior to your average Harlequin. I love reading about Ffordes heroines, their husbands to be and am transported to a Great Britain of tea and scones for just a few hours. Nothing to serious about Fforde, just delightful reading. Having read all of her novels I prefer her earlier ones but enjoyed her most recent one without a doubt.
Keys tops Fforde in edginess. Her heroines have to go to rehab and encounter every kind of mishap. Being absolute toughies they manage to scrape through without losing their optimism and Irish sense of (edgy) fun. A typical Marian Keyes has an element of romance but is mostly about modern women making their way through life. Where Jane Austen presented us with the Bennet sisters. Keyes has introduced the Walshes, an absolute fun family. Feel good with an edge and superiority. Her most recent novel is a perfect example of a Marian Keyes.