I always pack something good to read on holiday. Of course, I have a trashy page-turner that will see me through the flight and give me some cover while I snooze beside the pool. But I also like to bring a book as a personal guide. And I’m not talking about guidebooks – although they are handy. I want a novel that will fire my imagination and bring the place to life. With that in mind, here are five of my favourites set in great literary holiday destinations:
1. Gerald Durrell’s Corfu
Some books conjure up such unforgettable settings that they inspire us to follow in the characters’ footsteps. In My Family and Other Animals (1956), Gerald Durrell captured the landscape of 1930’s Corfu in such tantalising detail that it helped to bring tourism to this Greek island. Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods complete Durrell’s Corfu trilogy, based on his childhood there.
Best for: A glimpse of unspoilt Corfu
2. Carl Hiaasen’s Florida
Crime fiction might be at the low end of the literary spectrum, but it’s typically at the top of my holiday reading pile. My murder-mystery favourite, Carl Hiaasen, hails from Florida, US, and sets his fast and funny novels there. I love Tourist Season (1986) and Double Whammy (1987), which both feature dark deeds in Florida’s Everglades wetlands.
Best for: A fantastic ride on Florida’s wild side
3. Louis de Bernières’ Kefalonia
There’s something about Greek islands that attract literary sorts. Louis de Bernières’ inspiration for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1994) was the World War II occupation of Cephalonia (Kefalonia). Yet, the thing I remember best from the book is its poetic evocation of daily lives (and loves) on the island.
Best for: An insight into Kefalonia’s history and traditions
4. Alaa al-Aswany’s Egypt
The Yacoubian Building (2002), an international best-seller for Egyptian author, Alaa as-Aswany, centres on one Cairo apartment block. But the stories that unfold there have a big sweep, making this book relevant to anyone who wants to understand Egypt today.
Best for: A provocative look at contemporary Egypt
5. Richard Zimler’s Goa
When in Goa, India – amid its crumbling colonial remains – Richard Zimler’s Guardian of the Dawn (2009) provides a compelling link with history. It’s set at the close of the 16th century, back when Goa was an outpost of Portugal.
Best for: The backstory of Old Goa