Seems like travelling this summer is going to have to happen in your head, so to help you go places we’ve collected a list of books that will take you to your favourite holiday destinations. We’ve been to Greece, Italy, and Spain already. France today!
The Lost Estate (The Grand Meaulnes) by Henri Alain-Fournier – Our narrator, François Seurel, is the bookish son of a schoolmaster, residing in a provincial French village in the 1890s. Passive and impressionable, he yearns for adventure, but will never be the architect of his own life. When the charismatic adventurer, Augustin Meaulnes, comes to board at his home, Seurel’s life is changed irrevocably. A French classic, often described as the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature, The Lost Estate deserves to be more widely read on this side of the Channel.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Partially based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own life, this portrait of a crumbling marriage set on the French Riviera in the 1920s has all the requisite glamour, wealth and beauty that you’d want from an indulging summer read. Dick, a psychiatrist, and Nicole, a wealthy heiress, spend their summer surrounded by American friends. Not all is well, though, with Nicole who suffers from mental illness. A 17 year-old actress and a murder add to the complications. Fitzgerald regarded this as his best novel, I still prefer The Great Gatsby, but as a read to get you into a summer mood it’s perfect.
Bonjour Tristesse By Francoise Sagan. The ultimate example of summer as an aphrodisiac. 17-year-old Cecile spends her holiday on the French Riviera with her playboy father Raymond and his glamorous girlfriend Elsa. Enter Anne, Cecile’s godmother and Elsa’s polar opposite, who sets off a chain reaction of jealousy and betrayal. Judged amoral and scandalous when published in 1954, particularly since Sagan was only 18 years old at the time, this book’s power to shock is diminished today. The attraction of the hedonistic, glamorous Riviera life-style as entertainment, though, never dates.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Doerr looks afresh at this well-trodden period in history (World War II) with an ingenious plot, haunting, compelling prose and beautiful imagery. But mostly I loved it because it reminded me of the light and grace we are all capable of embodying. Doerr convinces the reader of the innate good in humanity, even at the most cruel and desolate of times.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Set in a French provincial town in the 1830s, Emma marries the boring, bourgeois and mediocre Charles Bovary, and spends the rest of her life trying to escape her marriage and her social class. First through books and day-dreaming, and later through various romantic affairs. Slowly Emma runs herself into the ground and you can’t help but empathise despite her stupidity. A tragic heroine in one of the most unromantic romantic books you’ll ever read. A gripping study of unfaithfulness, unhappiness and betrayal written by a perfectionist.
The Life Before Us by Émile Ajar – A heart-breaking story narrated by Momo, a ten year-old Arab immigrant to France. Momo, who lives in an orphanage run by ex-prostitute Madame Rosa, has seen things no ten-year old should see and is far too advanced for his age. Darkly comical and wonderfully poignant The Life Before Us deserves to join the ranks of rediscovered classics. Why no U.K. publisher has given its cover a face-lift and republished this wonderful novel is a mystery to me.
The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis – A punch of a book. Eddy Belleguele grows up in a dirt-poor working class family in the north of France. Realising early on he’s gay, Eddy spends the rest of his youth trying to hide his sexual orientation from the macho, homophobic, misogynist and racist environment he’s born into. The End of Eddy is an extraordinary autobiographical novel of survival and courageousness and a truly magnificent book.