We have been particularly blessed with hot weather in the UK lately. While this may not be surprising to hear, given that it is summer, it is ironically unusual in Britain. So, imagine a day with endless sun where you have the luxury of nothing to do except sit outside and read… which book is by your side?
Someone once told me that they love to read a good murder mystery when the temperature surpasses 20 degrees. For me personally, I am inclined towards something a little less criminal but still heated, whether that takes the form of family sagas, love stories or balmy locations.
I first read Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, fittingly, on a hot holiday a couple of years ago. Levy is beautiful writer; she navigates complex themes, from identity to homeland and womanhood, with ease through perfectly cutting metaphors and one-liners.
We meet Sofia Papastergiadis, the daughter of a separated English mother and Greek father, on a trip to Spain. Her mother (who she calls Rose) is receiving treatment for a strange leg ailment from a Dr Gómez. Along the way, Sofia makes new friends and lovers and attempts to reconnect with her father who has remarried. Levy’s portrayal of the push and pull in a child and parent relationship, of love and resentment, is amplified by the backdrop of Spain in August.
Hot Milk is very much Sofia’s story of self-discovery. This memorable passage, where Sofia acknowledges all the things she is rather than isn’t, could be a poem. Reading and re-reading this book is a joy.
I am other things, too.146
I have a first-class degree and a master’s.
I am pulsating with shifting sexualities.
I am sex on tanned legs in suede platform sandals.
I am urban and educated and currently godless.
I do not resemble an acceptable femininity from my father’s point of view.
The God of Small Things
May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst.1
This iconic opening passage sets the tone for The God of Small Things, a book which is hot and humid in its language, characters and setting. The story retraces the childhood of Estha and Rahel; unconventional twins from an unconventional family. A series of events which take place around the time that their English cousin visits their home in Kerala have terrible far-reaching consequences for the children, the family and a young man from a lowly caste.
The God of Small Things draws out the unspeakable truths of family, love and class. Something which fascinates me is the way Roy captures the world through a child’s eyes; she conveys the anxiety of being loved enough by a mother and the keen perception of adult relationships. Equally fascinating is Roy’s depiction of Estha and Rahel’s mother, Ammu. As a single parent resented by her family, Roy fleshes out Ammu as a mother trying to protect her children and as a woman with her own identity, who needs her space to love and be loved.
The narrative is disturbing and joyous and ultimately a compelling one to read on a languid summer day.
Anne Fortier’s Juliet is an Italian dream of a love story, taking Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as the inspiration and diving deeper into the historical origins of the famous lovers.
In Juliet, Julie Jacobs receives a mysterious letter and a key to a safety deposit box in Siena upon the passing of her beloved Aunt Rose. This takes her on a journey of discovery through a collection of letters and journals dating from 14th century Siena, which reveal the tragic tale of young lovers Guilietta and Romeo, and their suprising connection to present day Julie. She is helped along the way by a man named Alessandro; romance naturally blooms.
Siena, A.D. 1340
It was the day of the Palio, and the people of Siena were merrily afloat on a sea of song. Every street had become a river, every piazza a whirlpool of religious ecstasy, and those awash in the current kept flapping their flags and banners that they might rise out of the shallows and straddle the slippery swells of fortune…212
If you want to read about love on a summer’s day but also have a penchant for historical fiction, then Juliet will surely satisfy. Romance is everywhere, played out in Italian alleyways and vespas and hidden in medieval letters and statue, but so is mystery. It is a perfect page-turner to take your mind off the heat.
What would make your reading list for a sunny day?