So let’s just assume we’re not having a summer this year and then we might just feel pleasantly surprised/pathetically grateful when we have a single, solitary sunny day (or even, y’know, an afternoon would do.)
Given that, and the fact that holidays only last for one or two weeks, we need a solution to get some sunshine in our lives and I have just the thing: books (isn’t that always my answer to everything? I can prescribe a book to solve and suit any problem or situation you know!)
Here’s my advice: mix yourself a nice Campari soda with lots of ice, fill a bowl with some of those little salty pretzels , sniff some sun lotion (Nivea is particularly evocative, I find) and open one of these novels.
If, like me, you’re craving heat, I promise they’ll transport you to places where the temperature never drops below 35 degrees, the sea is crystal clear and there’s probably a murderer lurking in the bushes (oh come on, I had to include an Agatha Christie.)
Some of them feature heavy, sullen, humid heat and lush vegetation, while others depict a landscape that’s dry and arid. Some are exotic and glamorous, others rather bleak – but they’re all as far away from a damp English June as you could possibly wish for.
Tender Is The Night, F Scott Fitzgerald
Beautiful people cavorting on the sands and in the gorgeous villas of the Riviera – all doomed, DOOMED I tell you! I never find myself liking any of the characters in Fitzgerald’s novels, but I love the settings for their complicated, tortured love affairs. Think bougainvillea dripping over white plaster walls, cocktails all day, exquisite clothes, murder and madness.
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
A bored, teenaged tomboy called Mick Kelly is enduring what feels like an endless summer in a small American town when she makes some unlikely friends. The heat hangs heavily over the story and creates an fantastically lazy, languid atmosphere - the dusty, desolate town that Mick calls home stands for the state of teenagerhood to me - that feeling of familiarity that's both comforting and suffocating. This is a sensitively written coming of age novel which is bittersweet and one of my all-time favourites.
Evil Under The Sun, Agatha Christie
In which the marvellous Ms Christie uses the fact that all sunbathing bodies basically look like anonymous slabs of oiled meat, gently baking in the sun, to devise a brilliantly ingenious murder. Christie wrote this Poirot novel while staying at the wonderful Burgh Island hotel (where I spent my honeymoon and slept in Agatha’s bedroom!) and the action takes place on the island too. OK, it's set in Devon so is hardly 'exotic' but it belongs to a time where we actually had proper summers in this country. *Bitter* I’d wager that this is one of the earliest mentions of fake tan in fiction too.
A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
I must confess, I’m probably conflating reading this novel with watching the Merchant Ivory film adaptation during the summer holidays when I was at school, but both the sections set in and around Florence and the bits in the lovely Surrey countryside capture the essence of summer for me, with all its romance and possibility, so I’m including it! Remember Helena Bonham Carter being kissed in a sun-baked Florentine field? That is what summer stands for.
Farther Afield, Miss Read
The wonderfully dry headmistress heroine of Miss Read’s Fairacre novels takes a holiday with her old friend Amy to the island of Crete and the descriptions of the food and scenery are delicious. You couldn’t wish for a more idyllic novel to escape into on a dull, grey afternoon and there are plenty of little life lessons to absorb while you’re admiring the landscape.
There are so many more, but these are the ones that are the most evocative at capturing a real feeling of heat for me and that never fail to whisk me away to a sunnier place.
Do you have a favourite book that captures the spirit of summer perfectly? Share it!