Best holiday reads 2017, picked by writers – part two

What to pack along with the aftersun and flipflops? From novels about gay footballers and updated Greek classics to biographies and poetry, our guest critics offer their holiday must-reads

John Banville

Colm Tibns exhilarating House of Names (Viking 14.99) is a retelling of Aeschyluss drama on the sacrificing by Agamemnon of his daughter Cassandra and its tragic consequences, including the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, Clytemnestra. The book has a controlled, hushed quality, like that of a Morandi still life, which only serves to heighten the terror and pity of the tale. Michael Longleys latest collection, Angel Hill (Jonathan Cape 10) what a genius he has for titles is at once lush and elegiac, delicate and muscular, melancholy and thrilling. I shall not be going anywhere hate holidays but will stay happily at home, rereading Evelyn Waughs second world war Sword of Honour trilogy (Penguin 14.99). Pure bliss.

Clover Stroud

With five children to entertain, Im not sure how much reading Ill actually do on holiday in Santander this summer, but luckily I have already romped through my best summer books.

Haunted by the shadow of a father killed in a motorbike accident, William Giraldis The Heros Body (No Exit Press 9.99) is a terse, gripping memoir set in working-class New Jersey. Giraldis hyper-masculine childhood is a foil for his revelations on the true fragility of male identity. I loved Elizabeth Days glamorous thriller The Party (4th Estate 12.99), about a sinister secret between two friends that unravels in midlife. Days writing is both elegant and claustrophobic, and deeply revealing of how entrenched questions of class remain today. I could not put it down. And I galloped through Mr Darleys Arabian (John Murray 25), Christopher McGraths brilliantly colourful romp through the extraordinary horses and scandalous characters who make up the history of British horse racing.


AM Homes

Neel Mukherjees A State of Freedom (Chatto & Windus 16.99) is a brilliant novel, deeply compassionate and painterly, reminding me of Howard Hodgkins paintings. Mukherjee brings to life the colours and sounds of a place where modern life is constantly crashing against tradition. And in my suitcase: Howard Jacobsons Pussy(Vintage 12.99), because as much as I need to laugh, I also need to confirm that my sense of horror is not just in my imagination but indeed shared; David Goodharts The Road to Somewhere(C Hurst & Co 20), because I am still looking for clues as to how we got where we are, and where we might be headed next; Don DeLillos entire backlist, and a bit of Norman Mailer because in retrospect, despite what one might call his personality problems with women, he was an amazing writer with a political eye.

Curiously, Im coming to the UK, spending a month in Oxford, keen to look at a landscape other than my own.

Curtis Sittenfeld

I loved the novel The Idiot (Jonathan Cape 16.99) by Elif Batuman. Its about a girl in her first year at Harvard in the mid-90s, and her email correspondence (when email is still new) with an older male student. The whole novel is full of hilarious, brilliant observations about writing, life and crushes. I was also blown away by Jane Mayers nonfiction book Dark Money (Scribe Publications 9.99), which meticulously, fascinatingly and horrifyingly explains how eccentric American billionaires hijacked our democracy. Im travelling to see my sister in Providence, Rhode Island, this summer, and Ill take the story collection Strangers to Temptation (Hub City 13.33) by Scott Gould (about a boy in the American south of the 1970s) and the novel Silver Sparrow (Algonquin) by Tayari Jones (about two girls in the American south of the 1980s). Im hearing buzz about Joness 2018 novel (An American Marriage) so I thought Id read this one first.

Melvyn Bragg

In the 11 skilfully detailed chapters of The Matter of the Heart (Bodley Head 20), Thomas Morris gives us the spectacular history of heart surgery. He spares us nothing and in gripping stories delivers everything you would want to know about his superbly chosen subject. Deaths of the Poets by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts (Jonathan Cape 14.99) is a witty and erudite journey into the characters of doomed poets using location as a steer. Chatterton kicks off and along the way there are arguments for and against the notion of whether poets are especially doomed artists. Surprisingly entertaining. For my own travels, I shall be taking House of Names by Colm Tibn (Viking 14.99). Tibns recent masterworks, Brooklyn and Nora Webster, gave little intimation that he would home in on the bloodiest violence in Greek tragedy for this novel. I cant wait to see what he does with it.


Jackie Kay

Id recommend readers take poetry with them on holiday poetry is so portable, travels light, but digs deep. Id take Hollie McNishs Nobody Told Me (Blackfriars 13.99), winner of this years Ted Hughes award, and a funny, very moving collection, taken originally from the poets diaries, about motherhood. Another wonderful debut is Kayombo Chingonyis Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus 10) a subtle and affecting, lyrical and powerful collection that explores boyhood, rites of passage, the ancient and the modern world. Id pack the small poetry pamphlet Toots by Alyson Hallett (Mariscat Press 6) poems so fresh and enlivening, you want to knock back the whole book with a cold beer. Im hoping to go to the Greek island of Halki. I went last year and loved it. And Im going to pack George Mackay Browns short stories Andrina (Polygon 7.99), having just come back from St Magnus festival in Orkney. I love the mystery and militancy he weaves into stories like The Box of Fish. And Im also going to take Maxine Beneba Clarkes The Hate Race (Corsair 18.99) a powerful memoir about growing up black in Australia.

Harriet Lane

Based on a True Story (Bloomsbury 12.99) by Delphine de Vigan (elegantly translated by George Miller) is a wonderful literary trompe loeil, a novel about identity and writing, reality and imagination. Its dark, smart, compelling and extremely French. I also enjoyed James Lasduns The Fall Guy(Jonathan Cape 12.99), a creepy little satire in which several New Yorkers, none of them terribly appealing, escape the city heat for a summer in the Catskills, and Denise Minas bleak and atmospheric The Long Drop(Harvill Secker 12.99).

For my own holiday (rural East Sussex, near Eastbourne the sunshine coast!), I will pack Amanda Craigs The Lie of the Land (Little, Brown 16.99) and Susie Steiners Persons Unknown(Harper Collins 12.99).

Patrick Ness

Definitely take two titles from the Baileys prize longlist this year (both of which, I think, are better than the winner): CE Morgans The Sport of Kings (4th Estate 16.99), contender for the Great American Novel, and Heather ONeills The Lonely Hearts Hotel (Quercus 16.99). For your teen, After the Fire (Usborne 8.99) by Will Hill a tough, enthralling YA novel about the Waco cult. I just got back from holiday, where I finally read Wilkie Collinss The Woman in White(Alma Books 4.99), which is, if were honest, ridiculous but ridiculously enjoyable, and Adam Johnsons fascinating Pulitzer prize-winning novel about North Korea, The Orphan Masters Son(Black Swan 8.99). Go big; youve got the time.


Lionel Shriver

I strongly recommend Lawrence Osbornes forthcoming novel Beautiful Animals(Hogarth 14.99), about two young women who try to help a refugee washed up on the Greek island where their families are holidaying. The altruism doesnt end well Im also intrigued by Dirk Kurbjuweits novel Fear (Text Publishing), about a stalker living downstairs. Im not finished, but so far so good. While in both NY and on a quick first trip to Mexico, I also hope to get through Preparation for the Next Life (Oneworld 8.99) by Atticus Lish, a strenuous recommendation by my friend Tracy Chevalier, and perhaps to finally have a go at CE Morgans The Sport of Kings (4th Estate 16.99).

Kirsty Wark

Sebastian Barrys Days Without End (Faber 8.99) is a novel so rich with character, so visceral in its action, that you literally hold your breath reading it. The character and voice of Thomas McNulty who escapes the Irish famine and becomes embroiled in both the American Indian wars and the American civil war will last in your mind much longer than your summer holiday. For a fast-paced, brilliantly constructed thriller with a difference, reach for Robert Harriss Conclave (Cornerstone 20). All you wanted to know about the Vatican but were too scared to ask. Ill be taking Richard Fords memoir Between Them: Remembering My Parents (Bloomsbury 12.99) in my own book bag in preparation for interviewing the author at the Edinburgh book festival (and also rereading Canada, which I loved first time around) as well as Judy Murrays Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story (Chatto & Windus 18.99) because, quite simply, she is inspirational, passionate and great fun. I admire her enormously and theres always the chance that my serve might improve.

Cornelia Parker

Dadland (Vintage 8.99) by Keggie Carew is a brilliant, bittersweet biography of her maverick, charismatic father Tom Carew. He was an undercover agent in Vichy France, a guerrilla fighter, Lawrence of Burma, and very possibly the inspiration for his friend Patricia Highsmiths infamous character Ripley. We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World (Profile 12.99) by Mark Stevenson is an inspiring book that makes you feel optimistic about the future; much needed at this moment in time. I have just finished reading Zeitoun (Penguin 9.99) by Dave Eggers a chilling factual account of a family caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and an indictment of Bushs America. I wonder how the inevitable climate-related disasters will fare under Trump?


Rohan Silva

You cant go wrong with Harriet Harmans wonderful autobiography A Womans Work (Allen Lane 20) its just so human and inspiring, and my favourite book of the year so far. The Nature Fix (WW Norton & Co 20) by Florence Williams is an ideal holiday pick too, chock-full of insights about the health benefits of spending time in nature. (It turns out that lying on the beach is good for you.) And if youre worried about the state of the world, Matthew Boltons brilliant How to Resist (Bloomsbury 9.99) shows how each of us can do our bit to fight populism.

As for me, Ill be packing Arundhati Roys new novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton 18.99), which Ive been saving for my travels. Im sure itll be worth the wait.

Carol Morley

When I go on holiday I love to read short stories. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (Granta 12.99) by the film-maker Kathleen Collins is a beautiful collection, written in the 60s and 70s, but unpublished in her lifetime. I also love the language and surprises in Irenosen Okojies collection Speak Gigantular (Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd 8.99). For August, I have pre-ordered We That Are Young (Galley Beggar Press 9.99) by Preti Taneja. It sounds wonderful an epic family tale involving corruption and betrayal that looks to hold a mirror to our times.

Mark Haddon

I need you to read four books, so Ill be brief. The Man Booker-shortlisted Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Oneworld 12.99) is a single afternoons disturbing read that will haunt you for weeks. Joe Moshenskas A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby (Cornerstone 20) reads like a thrilling historical novel but amazingly happens to be nonfiction. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan 20) is the best true-crime reportage and simultaneously the best memoir Ive read for several years. And The Unaccompanied by Simon Armitage (Faber 14.99) won me over completely after a period of several years in which I suffered a profound allergy to poetry of all kinds.

My own summer reading (during a week in Portugal and a week in Switzerland in an attempt to satisfy all family members) will be the new translation of The Arabian Nights by Malcolm C Lyons (Penguin Classics). Its three volumes of a thousand pages each so it may be my reading for the following summer as well.


Louise Doughty

Ive been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and three very different books that Ive admired are: The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan 20), true crime in the same category as Truman Capote or Janet Malcolm; A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney (Aurum Press 20), about friendship between famous female writers; and Hannah Lowes engaging cross-cultural memoir, Long Time No See (Periscope 9.99). Its time for some novels on holiday I think its going to be Croatia this year and were living in a golden age for genre-busting fiction, narrative-driven books that are still beautifully written. Among the many Im looking forward to catching up with are The Party by Elizabeth Day (4th Estate 12.99), The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (Little, Brown 16.99) and two debuts, You Dont Know Me by Imran Mahmood (Michael Joseph 12.99) and Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber 14.99) good prose and a secret waiting to be unlocked are always a winning combination for me.

Laura Barnett

No suitcase should be without a copy of The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta 12.99) one of the sharpest, most startlingly original novels Ive read in years. And while A Manual for Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink (Picador 8.99) might not sound like holiday reading, its the perfect choice for anyone keen to use the time off to make sense of any recent emotional upheaval.

Many people I respect have raved about Amy Liptrots The Outrun (Canongate 8.99), so Ill be taking that to a yoga retreat in Sweden. And Fran Coopers debut novel These Dividing Walls (Hodder & Stoughton 14.99) will be coming with me on a weekend trip to Paris: its set in the city, and I cant resist a location-appropriate holiday read.

Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara.

Marina Warner

I recommend: The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin (Solaris 10.99), entertaining, sexy, and mischievous; The Power (Penguin 12.99) an enthrallingly told Cassandra-like prophecy from the ever-inventive Naomi Alderman; and Lesley Nneka Arimahs tales, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (Headline 14.99), ranging from the memorably weird to the delicate and psychological. Ill be going to Sicily, and am packing Jerry Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (Allen Lane 20), which continues his brilliant recovery of the intertwined Mediterranean, and Jack Zipess Catarina the Wise (University of Chicago Press 15), a fabulous dish of frutti di mare.


Nick Hornby

Two books have stood out for me so far this year: Keggie Carews Dadland (Chatto & Windus 16.99) and Francesca Segals The Awkward Age (Chatto & Windus 14.99). Carews memoir about her father follows a winding, extraordinary path through the thickets of dementia and the jungles of Burma a thrilling, bloody, educative history of Churchills Special Operations Executive (AKA the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare) in the second world war combined ingeniously with a tender, moving, funny portrait of the authors father. Segals The Awkward Age is a very smart, soulful, compelling, elegantly written domestic novel about a wedged-together family, and what can go wrong when teenage children decide they have minds (and hormones) of their own. I will be sitting on a sun-lounger reading Glenn Frankels High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic(Bloomsbury 30), Naomi Aldermans The Power (Penguin 12.99), and one of the many classics that I have hitherto ignored, Willa Cathers Death Comes for the Archbishop (Virago 8.99).

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

I recommend A Bold and Dangerous Family (Chatto & Windus 20), Caroline Mooreheads humane and engrossing book about two brothers, both courageous anti-fascists, murdered by Mussolinis hit men. Also Standard Deviation (4th Estate 12.99) Katherine Heinys novel is a comic masterpiece and her Audra is the funniest heroine ever. A faltering marriage, a vulnerable child, an origami class full of seriously weird loners dark material transformed into pure gold by Heinys spot-on comic timing. Ill be in Suffolk rereading another comic masterpiece The Diary of a Nobody (Penguin 6.99) because Rough Haired Pointers hilarious stage version (directed by my daughter Mary Franklin) returns to the Kings Head Islington from 31 October.

Julie Myerson

Ive been writing a novel of my own, which means I can only allow in certain voices and so am woefully behind on reading, but Delphine de Vigans Based on a True Story (Bloomsbury 12.99) hit the exact right note: frighteningly honest, precise and thrilling. I hope to spend most of August by the bluest of blue seas in East Sussex where I will sit under a huge purple umbrella reading Elizabeth Strouts Anything Is Possible (Viking 12.99), Monique Roffeys The Tryst (Dodo Ink 8.99) and Richard Lloyd Parrys Ghosts of the Tsunami (Jonathan Cape 16.99) all of them enticing-sounding books by proper grown-up writers who arent afraid to go to uneasy places and whose work I have previously found so inspiring.


Frank Cottrell-Boyce

Andrew OHagans The Secret Life (Faber 14.99) brings together three brilliant pieces hes written about the impact of the digital world on our fleshly selves. They are written like thrillers freighted with challenging and urgent questions. In these dark times we have a responsibility to imagine what good times would look like. Rutger Bregmans Utopia for Realists (Bloomsbury 16.99) is a cheery rough guide to an archipelago of ideal societies. In my suitcase, as we head to the west of Ireland, is Walter Millers sci-fi classic about a future monastic society, A Canticle for Leibovitz (Orbit 9.99), and this years Carnegie winner, Ruta Sepetyss Salt to the Sea (Puffin 7.99) the story of the greatest maritime disaster of all time. On audible Ive got Stay With Me (Canongate 14.99) by Aybmi Adby.

Alex Preston

Im going to be speaking about a neglected classic Charles Sprawsons extraordinary literary history of swimming, Haunts of the Black Masseur (Vintage 9.99) on the brilliant Backlisted podcast in a few weeks time. Its the perfect poolside companion. If youre holidaying in more rugged terrain, how about Adam Nicolsons light-filled hymn to the birds of our coasts and oceans, The Seabirds Cry (HarperCollins 16.99)? I adored it. Finally, Ive been delighted to see Amanda Craigs The Lie of the Land (Little, Brown 16.99) being garlanded with such praise. Its a hell of a novel dark, gripping and beautifully written. For my own holidays in France, Ill be taking two advance proofs that have got me moist-palmed with anticipation. Ive read bits of Anthony McGowans The Art of Failing (Oneworld 12.99, out in September) and cant wait to immerse myself in this excruciating memoir of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Kamila Shamsies new one, Home Fire (Bloomsbury 16.99, also September), reimagines Antigone in two modern Muslim families.

Linda Grant

The most memorable nonfiction work of the year so far has been Allan Jenkinss Plot 29(4th Estate 14.99), his account of a search for family and the solace of gardening which for me, as a new gardener, was an instructive pleasure. Gwendolyn Rileys First Love (Granta 12.99) is a tremendous novel with an unreliable narrator and one of the most enjoyable monsters in contemporary fiction, the mother, holding forth in a Liverpool cafe. Loved it. Ive come absurdly late to Henry James having developed an allergy reading The Ambassadors as a set university text. I expect to finish The Portrait of a Lady (Vintage, 6.99) in Fowey, Cornwall. So much more fun than Middlemarch.


Geoff Dyer

For long summer days I warmly recommend Gerard Revess hilariously gloomy The Evenings (originally published in Dutch in 1947 but only recently appearing in English courtesy of the Pushkin Press, 12.99). I see it as a Dutch version of Kafkas Metamorphosis in which the narrator who lives at home with his parents instead of turning into a giant bug undergoes a psychic disintegration which is all but unnoticeable on the outside. In the intriguingly titled Novel 11, Book 18 (Vintage 8.99) Norwegian writer Dag Solstad serves up another helping of his wan and wise almost-comedy. (Lydia Davis taught herself Norwegian entirely from his books.) My wife and I are heading that way-ish, to Iceland, where Ill be reading Raja Shehadehs Where the Line Is Drawn: Crossing Boundaries in Occupied Palestine (Profile 14.99).

Charlotte Mendelson

Reading has always been everything: until now. My concentration is shot; life is complicated, the news is so bad. Dozens of just-begun books pile up by my bed; the only two that gripped me to the end are Susie Steiners novel Persons Unknown (HarperCollins 12.99) and Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevichs The Fact of a Body(Macmillan 20). Holiday reading makes me panic at the best of times, which this is not. The classics I mean to bring Laxness, Chekhov will stay on the shelf. I can manage Elizabeth Strout, and Alys Fowlers Hidden Nature(Hodder & Stoughton 20); Im impatient for Maggie OFarrells memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am (Headline 16.99), out in August, and Alan Hollinghursts sixth novel The Sparsholt Affair (Picador, October). Please hurry; meanwhile its back to my crime stockpile, and trying to ignore the news enough to write.

Alastair Campbell

At the risk of coming over all Remainiac, I am recommending a French book as the best I have read this year. Lettres Anne by Franois Mitterrand (Gallimard 35), is a 1,200-page collection of the letters the former French president wrote to his mistress, Anne Pingeot, over the decades of their love affair. It is breathtakingly romantic at times. I would also recommend The End of Europe by James Kirchick (Yale University Press 18.99), a young Americans brilliant analysis of the dire state of world politics. The subtitle, Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age, gives you a flavour. Putin, Trump and Brexit figure large, and Kirchick shares my exasperation that we are turning away from liberal values and the benefits of the EU. Top of my reading list for the summer is The Jacobite Trilogy by DK Broster. I have read the first of the three, Flight of the Heron. I have also got the new book about Emmanuel Macron, Un jeune homme si parfait, by Anne Fulda (Plon 15,90). And, yes, I am going to France.


Julian Baggini

Travel will for once broaden your mind this year if you pack Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperbers The Enigma of Reason (Allen Lane 25). It takes the new common sense that human beings are governed by irrational emotions and shows why these are not design flaws in the brain but design features. Erica Benners Be Like the Fox (Allen Lane 20) turns more conventional wisdom upside down by showing that Machiavelli was not as Machiavellian as you thought. Im hoping to be in post-deadline mode at home reading David Foster Wallaces essays on tennis, String Theory (Turnaround 16.99), ready to start watching the real thing if it disappoints.

Suzanne OSullivan

I will be alternating scuba diving with lots of reading on a Maldivian island this summer. I plan to take The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Pan 8.99). Henriettas story is extraordinary she changed the world without ever knowing it. I will also be reading Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (Granta 12.99). Im a big admirer of deWitts originality. And I recommend In

Read more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *