If you’re heading off on your staycation and worried that the weather won’t play ball, you can at least remember to pack a good book that evokes the true spirit of the season. We’ve handpicked ten classic novels that simply scream summer:
The Great Gatsby (1925)
F Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is in some ways the quintessential summer novel, charting both the aspirations of the sunny months as well as the inevitable drift and decline that come as evenings close in and the spell is broken. F Scott Fitzgerald embroiders the jazz-age excess and balmy lust with images of handsome, but fractured, characters discovering that money can’t buy redemption.
Love In The Time Of Cholera (1985)
Gabriel García Márquez
A quaking romantic saga, an epic told at street level, a Caribbean fever dream – like all the best things in life, Love In The Time Of Cholera defies easy categorisation. Gabriel García Márquez brings us to a world of extreme beauty and poignancy as a love that refused to die gets a second chance after half a century biding its time. The backdrop is the floral, sun-peeled “dog days” of Columbia’s north coast, which will do nicely.
This Is Happiness (2019)
A modern classic, and an Irish one at that. Niall Williams’ beautiful and hilarious amble through 1950s Clare hinges on the day the rain stopped, the sun came out and a summer of freakishly fine weather unseated the sleepy locals. No guns, no misery, none of the familial disquiet Irish literary fiction is reliant on, just delightfully odd characters dancing off the page and love blooming in the golden evening blush.
To Kill A Mockingbird (1960)
The trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird is so laced with heat-haze, its key players seem under threat of expiring at any moment. Of course, the legal drama is only part of the picture. The prize jewel in this classic novel’s crown is the tender viewfinder of its young protagonist Scout who, with brother Jem and friend Dill, witnesses racial persecution in 1930s deep south.
The Body (1982)
King came at the formative role of long, parent-free summers from two angles – The Body and It (1985). Both deal with friends who band together when a local child goes missing. But while It went the carnival horror route, The Body (adapted for the screen in Stand By Me) focuses on the sun-dappled quest the young quartet embark on, and how their bond imbues them with fortitude when the harsh realities of the grown-up world loom.
The 2007 film adaptation may have made Saoirse Ronan a star, but Ian McEwan’s WWII novel is so much more than that. On a resplendent country estate in 1935, we return to that theme of a particular summer that proves fundamental in a child’s developing world view. What 13-year-old Briony does and doesn’t see between big sister Cecilia and local lad Robbie will have lasting consequences for everyone in her orbit.
The Help (2009)
Rejected by 60 literary agents, The Help was the big story in 2009 when an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey helped author Kathryn Stockett to dispense with the day job. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, and loosely based on Stockett’s own upbringing, it deals with the then-widespread phenomenon of black housemaids rearing the children of white employers whilst being denied domestic rights.
It might have shipped 20 million copies and rescued Peter Benchley from penury, but Jaws the novel was always going to live in the shadow of Spielberg’s classic. None the less, this is a more substantial species than the film, with richer character nuance and plotting.
The Beach (1996)
Before he became a sci-fi director and screenwriter of note, Alex Garland caught the zeitgeist with this debut novel about a backpacking nightmare far from home. A young Brit on tour in Thailand seeks out a rumoured island paradise, only to end up in the heart of darkness itself. Danny Boyle’s 2000 film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio secured the novel’s status, but it is a stylish and thrilling prose experience in its own right.
The Talented Mr Ripley (1955)
That combination of sun and skulking shade again proves a suitably incongruous setting in which to depict the moral bankruptcy of summer. New Yorker Tom Ripley arrives to Italy and sets about inveigling his way into the shoes of a glamorous heir. Even if you’ve seen the 1999 adaptation with Matt Damon and Jude Law, it is in Highsmith’s silky stylings that this character’s diabolic complexity rings loudest.
Sign up to our free entertainment newsletter
For more culture and entertainment news, reviews, interviews and features directly into your inbox sign up for our weekly newsletter HERE