Literary summers 

So, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme was all about our favourite books not set in the US. I was half tempted to change it to books not set in the UK and go from there…. Except that I’ve covered some similar themes elsewhere on this blog recently, particularly since I started going around the world in 80 books. Rather than repeat myself I just decided to give this one a miss.

But I still have a list to post this week, mainly because this particular idea has been buzzing around my head for a couple of days now. It all started with an online article about the correlation between temperature and violent crime which got me thinking about all the great novels that use heat to heighten the tension and introduce some drama. And that in turn got me thinking more generally about novels set in the summer months, hence this post.

This week has been a bit of a scorcher here in the UK (a very British one with lots of grumbling and not enough sun cream) so it feels quite apt. Here’s a list of some memorable literary summers:

1. The Go Between by L. P. Hartley (1953). Young Leo spends the sizzling summer of 1900 with the family of a wealthy school friend and is pulled into a world he doesn’t really understand. It’s a story of sex, loss of innocence and betrayal and Hartley expertly uses the rising heat to build the tension bit by bit. I’m always telling myself that this novel demands a reread – why haven’t I done it yet?!

2. Birdsong by Sebastien Faulks (1993). The novel opens with an afternoon boat trip in northern France and a young Englishman making eyes at his employer’s pretty young wife across the still water. Years later, he has only the memories of those beautiful afternoons with Isabelle to sustain him through the horrors of the war. (Truth be told, I didn’t love Birdsong but the opening chapters are pretty great).

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). It’s the longest, and the hottest, day of the year so Gatsby and his new friends escape the heat by ordering mint juleps in the shade of a New York hotel. It’s the catalyst for all those tensions that have been simmering away all morning to finally boil over into an explosive row. Daisy’s slightly hysterical tone rises with the heat.

4. One Day by David Nicholls (2009). The reader gets just the briefest of glimpses at Emma and Dexter’s relationship each year on the 15th July but it’s enough to really draw you in. The book group I was in at the time hated this but I was absolutely hooked on Emma and Dexter and I thought the ‘one day’ snapshot worked really well.

5. I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith (1948). Cassandra’s indulgent Midsummer Day ritual is one of my favourites in a novel full of favourites. There’s naked sunbathing, reading, cake, flowers, a bonfire, chanting and it all ends with tea, music, a slow dance in the conservatory and suddenly everything changes forever.

6. On Tangled Paths by Theodor Fontane (1888). I only read this a few months ago but it’s stayed with me. The story of a love affair between a seamstress and a cavalry officer that lasts just one summer, but is deeply felt on both sides…. It’s pretty perfect to be honest and I love it all the more because it’s so quiet and unassuming.

7. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001). One lie, told by a jealous little girl at the end of an oppressively hot day, sparks a rift that Briony will spend a lifetime trying to atone for. McEwan really takes his time with that languid summer’s afternoon leading up to the lie so you know something is going to happen long before the storm hits. I love this book.

8. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee (1959). I always think of this as a summery book, partly, I suppose, because there are so many beautifully vivid descriptions of the green landscape surrounding Lee’s childhood home. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to lie down in some long grass and stare at the sky for an hour or two.

9. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934). It opens with the Divers sunning themselves on the French Riviera, surrounded by their equally as attractive friends, and follows with the jealousies and recriminations that eventually lead to the collapse of their marriage. It’s my favourite of Fitzgerald’s novels and worth following up with Zelda’s Save me the Waltz, just for an alternative version of the story.

10. …………………???

And here I run out of ideas! Is there anything obvious I’ve missed? Any literary heatwaves that stick in your mind?


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