• Revellers

5 really wonderful holiday reads

Updated: Jun 23, 2021


My most recent holiday was a week in Germany, attending an opera festival held in Wagner’s home town of Bayreuth (niche, I know.) I was taking trains across the continent to get there and back, so knew I’d have a fair few hours of quality reading time on my hands. It was thus important, I felt, to pick my reading material judiciously.

I did not chose well.

I think I go into panic mode when picking holiday reads, as the decision seems so final: this WILL be the book that you commit to for your week(s) away, and it WILL forever after be attributed to the precious memories you make there. My main mistake is that I go large. Lugging Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, in hardback, around a 2 week tour of Sri Lanka was, in retrospect, a mistake. As was, in the case of my most recent trip to deepest darkest Bavaria, my selection of Hilary Mantel’s French Revolution epic A Place of Greater Safety. Now I love Mantel. And I’m sure I’ll love this book. But - as you’ll probably have guessed - read it on this holiday I did not. It’s a book to be consumed during the endless swathes of time afforded when lounging around a villa / pool / garden… not when travelling on 48 different trains to reach one's destination. It’s just too MUCH - it's too dense, too heavy (literally) and too sprawlingly-written. It demands too much of a reader already stressed from haring across a.n.other European station to catch their umpteenth train. Ah, well. I guess my biceps are a little stronger from having lugged it all that way. And back again.

The second trap I fall into is the ‘everyone’s reading it so it must be good’ category. Gone Girl is at the top of this list for me - a hugely-hyped summer read that really wasn’t as much fun - or nearly as clever - as I'd hoped it'd be. See also Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist, the complete works of Dan Brown, etc...

(Physically) light, absorbing, special - these are the craved-for qualities in my ideal holiday read. Personally, I don’t value ‘escapism’ as such in my selections, since I’ve literally gone and done that myself, removing myself from daily life to take the break I'm on. So now’s the time to make the acquaintance - and hopefully the lifelong friend of - a truly wonderful book or two.

Here are my choices.

NORMAL PEOPLE - Sally Rooney

This is Rooney’s second novel, but the first I read. It’s wonderful: remarkably fresh-voiced, and featuring two characters you come to really, really care about. I so loved spending time with them as they moved though the early stages of life, love and loss, toward understandings we can all relate to.

Perfect for: Reading on a European city break

DAYS WITHOUT END - Sebastian Barry

This is a book with huge scope and huge heart, yet very tightly written. And, whilst firmly set in the landscapes and tussles of the American Civil War, it's not one of those books that feels strange to read whilst sipping Piña coladas in the sun; it’s the journey the two central characters go on that sustains and enthrals. A precious, wonderful book that I've been pressing into the hands of all my friends.

Perfect for: Reading by the pool

HIS BLOODY PROJECT - Graeme Macrae Burnet

So, instead of re-reading an Agatha Christie or P. D. James for the umpteenth time, give this a try. Deliciously gory and strikingly written through 'eye witness' accounts, this is one of those slicker, smarter works of crime fiction that delicately explores not the How but the far more compelling Why in relation to the grisly events it concerns.

Perfect for: Reading in short bursts at bedtime

MOONFLEET - J. Meade Falkner

Forget the anodyne TV series - this book is my ‘Nostalgia Pick.’ My uncle read this to me when I was seven - and I have loved it ever since. I re-read it in my twenties, and know that I will do so again. Unlike Treasure Island or Peter Pan (or so many others) which, while justly celebrated, would be read (by me at least) with the afforded leniency of a certain dewy-eyed sentimentality, Moonfleet is just an excellent adventure story, thrilling from start to finish. Give it a go and remember why you fell in love with reading in the first place.

Perfect for: Reading on the beach


You may by now have seen the (quite exceptional) TV miniseries starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh and (a mesmerically monstrous) Hugo Weaving. Even if so, the five books of St Aubyn's original series are more than up to the task of delighting, appalling and entertaining afresh. Readable, memorable, hilarious and tragic, these exquisitely crafted compositions are a delight to devour in bitesize holiday chunks.

Perfect for: Reading down in the house in France. Preferably under a fig tree...

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