We Know What You’re Reading This Summer

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We Know What You’re Reading This Summer

Words by Mr Sam Leith

6 July 2016

From a pacy thriller to a racy classic – these six beach-friendly books have got your holiday covered .

What do you look for from a “beach read”? You go on holiday to escape from everyday life; and you read a book to escape from your holiday. Usually we look for something with a world to get lost in, a plot to be pulled through, and the sort of visual and emotional colour that can withstand being read through sunglasses after a lunchtime beer. Above all else, a book must give the reader pleasure.

So it’s with the pleasure principle to the fore that we’re recommending six books to go in your suitcase, along with your swim shorts and bat and ball. Among them are titles with the highest literary credentials – why should pleasure be “guilty”? ­– but every one of them will draw you deep into its world and keep you reading long after fainter hearts have left the beach for the first sundowner.

Make Me (Bantam Press) by Mr Lee Child

Mr Lee Child is one of the most accomplished thriller writers working today, and his latest catches him at cruising speed. The formula is straightforward, the plot expertly made and the prose does everything it needs to and nothing it doesn’t. Mr Child’s protagonist Jack Reacher is a former military policeman, built like a brick outhouse, who roams the US with nothing but a toothbrush, a cash card and the clothes he stands up in. Whim takes him to a nowhere town in the prairie – but soon skeletons are tumbling out of closets and Reacher is back in the thick of it. Bliss.

Mothering Sunday (Scribner) by Mr Graham Swift

Mr Graham Swift’s new novel is already a good bet for this year’s Man Booker prize longlist. Mr Swift was first shortlisted in 1983 and eventually won the prize in 1996 – this new one has been described as “his best yet”. It tells the story of a young maid at a grand house in 1924. While everyone else is away enjoying the Mothering Sunday holiday with family, she’s having an illicit farewell canoodle with the soon-to-be-married heir of the next household along. On that one day, the course of her whole life will pivot. Mr Swift packs an emotional charge in perfectly restrained prose. Literary bonus point: Mothering Sunday is a “circadian novel” – as with Ulysses by Mr James Joyce and Mrs Dalloway by Ms Virginia Woolf, all its action takes place in the course of one day.

The Return (Viking) by Mr Hisham Matar

The Libyan novelist Mr Hisham Matar’s memoir is already being acclaimed as a classic in the making. When Mr Matar was 19 years old his father Jaballa, an eminent and cultured Libyan dissident, was kidnapped in Cairo by Mr Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and vanished into a maximum security prison in Tripoli. For years, Mr Matar tried to find out what had happened to his father – and the book is a piercing story of a son’s love “when a father is neither dead nor alive”, and the author’s growth into manhood as the nightmarish modern history of Libya plays out in the background.

The Man Who Invented Fiction (Bloomsbury) by Mr William Egginton

A little biography with a big idea. Mr William Egginton argues that Mr Miguel de Cervantes all-but-invented the idea of fiction – and that were it not for Don Quixote, the whole of Western literature and philosophy would not have happened as it did. Mr Cervantes had a remarkable life and lived in a remarkable age – and it’s a credit to Mr Egginton that he weaves the life, the age, and the dazzling metafiction of the Quixote into so lucid and sympathetic a picture. Isn’t it time you got to grips – even by proxy – with “the most published work of literature in history”? It’ll make you sound very smart at your next dinner party.

I Am Pilgrim (Corgi) by Mr Terry Hayes

With Mr Matthew Vaughn set to turn Mr Terry Hayes’s best-selling debut thriller into a Hollywood film, this may be the last summer to read the original without spoilers. It’s well worth doing. Here’s a piece of weapons-grade hokum pitched somewhere between Messrs Tom Clancy and Dan Brown. Everyone has a silly codename (“The Saracen”, “Whisperer”, “Rider of the Blue”), there’s martial arts and forensic science, buried Nazi secrets and a heroically absurd trick involving a pair of mirrors and a firework display. Does it make sense? Not much. Does it keep you turning the pages? You bet.

Fingersmith by Ms Sarah Waters

Ms Sarah Waters’ 2002 Booker-nominated novel is one of the great beach reads of all time. It has the lot: sex, intrigue, skullduggery, a ferociously twisty plot and enough literary kudos that you don’t need to wrap it in the dust jacket of Wolf Hall to hold your head high on the sunlounger. Ms Waters’ love of old-style gothic and sensation fiction shines through this wonderfully atmospheric 19th-century romp about a teenage pickpocket who gets wound up in a scam to cheat an heiress out of her fortune – only, in the first of the book’s shocking reverses, to fall victim to a scam herself. If you haven’t read it already yet, you really must.

Illustrations by Mr Seth Armstrong