Good books to read during the heatwave to get you hot under the collar
- Alex Johnston
- 30 June 2015
Five books to make you feel the heat; five books full of chill
When it's hot, and all you want to do is lie down and read a good book, the crucial thing is to get a really good one. We all have our own idea of what constitutes a guilty pleasure, and you don't need airport novel recommendations from us. Here are ten good books you might enjoy: five which talk about the heat, and five which take you away from it.
Books to make you sweat
1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
It's not all set during a heatwave, but Nabokov's deeply discomfiting, sometimes very funny, ultimately heartbreaking love story would never take off if narrator Humbert Humbert weren't driven to worse than distraction by the spectacle of his landlady's underage daughter lazing around the garden in a bikini. Later on, Humbert and Lolita's long road trip takes place during an apparently relentless summer.
2. The Meursault Investigation – Kamel Daoud
Albert Camus' The Stranger is a classic of 20th century fiction and its climactic scene, when on a beach, in baking sunlight, the nominal hero kills a man who hasn't harmed him in any way, inspired The Cure's song 'Killing an Arab'. Algerian writer Daoud's novel, which won the Goncourt first novel prize, retells the story from the point of view of the dead man's brother, pointing up some of the more questionable attitudes of Camus' original. It's been acclaimed as an instant classic.
3. Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Short, laconic and gripping, this tale set in a rural Colombian village describes how a man gets murdered basically because everyone's too hungover and heat-stupefied to stop it from happening.
4. The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
The final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy is suffused with summer heat, pollen and teenage hormones, and it's all in the service of a grand, inspiring story about human destiny and freedom versus bigotry and religious intolerance. Which is nice. Should probably be read after the other two, though (see below).
5. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower – Marcel Proust
Don't be put off by rumours of long sentences or flowery language. This second volume of Proust's great novel sequence In Search of Lost Time is all about being young, being on summer holidays, hanging around a holiday resort being fascinated with the cool people, and most of all it's about desire. It's the best YA novel that young adults mostly haven't read, and it's also very funny; whenever Proust brings the manager of the local hotel onto the page, he can't resist having the guy make a complete tit of himself.
Five books to cool you down
1. The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard
It doesn't get much chillier than this. Cherry-Garrard was a junior member of Robert Scott's spectacularly ill-fated 1910-13 polar expedition, and the Antarctic wind whistles through this account of it. On an 120-mile round trip trip to collect penguin eggs, Cherry-Garrard's team got stuck in a blizzard and his teeth chattered so hard that he broke most of them.
2. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
The first book of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is set mostly far up north, in a magically silvery Arctic world where plucky heroine Lyra is determined to find out what's been happening to a lot of missing children, with the assistance of a badass talking polar bear. The truth leads to a showdown in the snow which sets up the rest of the trilogy. The middle volume, The Subtle Knife, probably qualified for the above list.
3. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin
Le Guin has a pretty good stake to be the greatest living SF/fantasy writer, and this multi-award-winning 1969 novel, which in characteristically thoughtful style explores themes of sexuality, belief and friendship on a planet where it's always winter and where the inhabitants change sex from time to time.
4. Dark Matter – Michelle Paver
In 1937, young Jack signs up as a wireless operator on an Arctic expedition but he soon finds that the Arctic emptiness isn't as empty as all that. Children's writer Paver got a lot of respect for her first attempt at adult fiction, earning comparisons to veteran horror writers like MR James and HP Lovecraft.
5. Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith
Cruz Smith has been using his Moscow investigator Arkady Renko to anatomise Russian society for over 30 years, but this 1981 novel, the first Renko book, introduced the character, who in the course of solving a grisly triple homicide discovers the sordid reality beneath the already sordid surface of Russian society. The whole book glitters with cold, down to the final exhilarating images of pine martens leaping to freedom across the snow.