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 and Italy already…Spain’s next. France to follow!
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy – Rose and her daughter Sofia arrive in a small Spanish fishing village – a strange, dreamlike place caught between the searing heat of the desert and the mesmerising pull of the sea. They are desperately seeking medical help and salvation. Rose suffers from a mysterious, inexplicable illness, which Sofia, trapped in an unhealthy co-dependent relationship, has spent her life trying to understand. The reader is left almost gasping for a break from the feverish tension that Levy creates and the surreal, dreamlike quality she gives to her prose made this unusual book stand out for me.
Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner – Lerner’s pot smoking, pill popping protagonist Adam is an endearing, hilarious and vulnerable anti-hero whom I immediately warmed to. On a poetry fellowship to Spain from Kansas, Adam comes weighed down with self-doubt. His knowledge of Spanish is negligible, his skills as a poet questionable. Adam self-medicates to the point that much of his life has become an out-of-body experience. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner had me in stitches, but just like Adam’s experience of life, this book has layers and layers of meaning, some hilarious, some profound, many of them both.
The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan – I cannot recommend this Spanish classic highly enough. The House of Ulloa is funny, clever, progressive and colourful, written by the feisty and daring Emilia Prado Bazán in 1886 and, luckily, reissued in English recently. We meet the gentle, devout chaplain Julián who’s been asked by Don Manuel, a prominent noble, to clean up the sinful House of Ulloa, the country estate of his unruly nephew Don Pedro. This hilarious meeting of polar opposites takes place amidst magnificently described Galician landscapes and decrepit aristocratic homes.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – I remember crying my eyes out reading For Whom the Bell Tolls in my twenties. Set in Spain during the Civil War we follow American idealist Robert Jordan and his guerilla unit fighting the fascists. There’s courage, death, loyalty, betrayal and LOVE amongst superb descriptions of the Segovian landscape.
Infatuations and A Heart So White by Javier Marias – I love the books of Marias, one of Spain’s most prominent writers, regularly tipped as a potential Nobel Prize winner. His books are cerebral, often philosophical, superbly written and intellectually challenging. They very often deal with relationships and how much (or little) we know about the people that are closest to us. His understanding of what it is to be human will hit home with most of us.