5 books that you must read this summer

Laura Lockington - 21 June 2022

As the warmer weather heads our way and holidays are on the map, the luxury of reading quietly in the sun beckons. Is there anything more wonderful that settling down in the warm shade, with a cool breeze, an even cooler drink, and a really good book?

Looking for some inspiration, rather than being caught on the back foot at WHSmiths at the airport? Author and playwright Laura Lockington has picked out five books that are forever on her ‘must read’ list…

1. The City of Falling Angels – John Brendt

Faction. My favourite kind of read. Half fiction, half fact. Brendt wrote the first bestseller of this kind in his Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil where he shared his fascination with Savannah. He does it again in this book about Venice. But it’s a Venice that few of us are privileged to know. The clever blend of reality and fantasy are so closely woven and so believable it can be hard to distinguish – and that – I think, is what makes it so very readable.

We start with the very real fire at the Fenice Theatre which all but destroyed it and was in danger of taking most of Venice out with it. How did it start? Was it an accident? Or was it deliberate? The scandals (and Venice is of course a city built on scandals) makes a unique starting point to this wonderful book. Behind the beautiful façade which is Venice, the gossip and intrigue, the blackmail and the extraordinary people make this historic city the most visited in Europe. Meet Peggy Guggenheim, the mistress of Ezra Pound and a myriad of eccentric Venetians, some real, some imagined, that make up this elegant and compelling study of a city floating on the edge of the sea.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, available from Blackwell’s £9.21

2. The Debt to Pleasure – John Lanchester

An American friend had this pressed into her hands by her English boyfriend saying, ‘You must read this to understand the British sense of humour’. Fair enough – but maybe run for the hills. Deeply, darkly funny, and yes, very British indeed, also delightfully sinister.  It’s a very clever way of laughing with someone, and then gradually laughing at them…

Let me introduce you to Tarquin Winot. A man of wealth and taste. He’s also a man of dubious morals, but that just makes him more fascinating. He’s a food snob, an obsessive, and a man with a decidedly dodgy history. We meet him as he travels from Portsmouth to Provence as he is stalking his prey. This is an unnerving tale of his childhood history, coupled with delicious recipes and seasonal menus, which will make you long to get into the kitchen and try a few out (his recipe for a summer dinner is sensational) But this is no common cookbook. As we read on, we get taken to a dark sinister place where his plans are slowly revealed, and we realise that Tarquin’s mission is truly monstrous.

Published by Picador, available from Waterstones £9.99

3. Good Behaviour – Molly Keane

The creaking, crumbling world of the aristocratic protestant Anglo-Irish family – The St Charles’ – is so perfectly described that you can feel the dampness of the bedrooms, the once opulent dining room now with a robin’s nest tucked away behind the shredded silk wallpaper, the leaking roof, and the dusty gun room with just cobwebs and empty dog baskets now. Behind the decaying gates of Temple Alice is Aroon St Charles, the large and unloved daughter of the house.

The father, (‘a gentleman never carries a pen – that’s what the study is for’) is a charismatic charmer of women, the mother a cold eccentric who shrinks from physical contact with her daughter, and a golden haloed son. The house is staffed by a dwindling stock of Irish Catholics who delight and horrify. The twist in the book is unforeseen and all the more shocking for it. Molly Keane is the undoubted mistress of wicked comedy, and in this, probably her finest work, is a perfect example of it. I never tire of the charm and wit parcelled so deliciously in these pages. If you are new to Keane, this is the perfect starting point.

Published by Virago, available from Amazon £7.43

4. The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell

Summer reading can be a lazy time to indulge in an easy page turner for sure (I’m thinking of the sublime Valley of the Dolls) but sometimes, it’s good to sink your teeth into something a bit more challenging. In the quartet, made up of Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea you can have the joy of discovering one of the great works of literature. It’s one story told by four very different people.

It’s set in Egypt in a world shuddering towards the second world war in an exotic backdrop of palm trees, old money, and extreme poverty. We meet Darley, an impoverished school teacher who starts an affair with the glamorous, mysterious, sensual Justine. Their world erupts into violence and intrigue, and we are immersed in an Alexandria of brothels, spies, gossip, and brutality spiced with extreme beauty and sun baked morals. It’s an epic series of books that will have you hooked by the language alone; lush, forceful and at the same time dreamlike. It quite rightly holds its place high on the list of literature and always stands the test of time.

Published by Faber and Faber, available WHSmith £13.59

5. Midnight in Sicily – Peter Robb

I first read this book about Sicily in Sicily which was smugly pleasing, but it has remained a perfect re-read for me time and time again. It’s the ideal book to dip in and out of, or to binge read. It’s that rare thing, a non-fiction book that reads like a novel.

It casts a strange light on that most Mediterranean island of lemons, Moors, and mafia. It’s travel writing (of a kind) at its very best. We are led via the trial of seven-times Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti for alleged Cosa Nostra involvement through history, art, food, and books to discover more and more about this intriguingly beautiful island.

It reads as if you are listening to an extremely accomplished friend who is talking with passion about something he loves. The history of the fork, the flavours of a gelato, the corruption, the discovery of a hidden statue, they’re all utterly beguiling and fascinating. And he cleverly, with seemingly no effort, draws them all together to give you insights and understanding of seemingly random events and objects. It will make you yearn to be in the crowded market of Syracuse and sip an espresso and watch the haggling, the pick pocketing, the liaisons, and the feuds.

Published by Vintage Publishing, available from Browns Books £8.24