Beach Book Recommendations

One of life’s most challenging decisions – over what to order on a revered menu, or how to make the most of your Netflix subscription – is what books to pack for your holiday. What literary marvels to enjoy to the point of distraction while your body toasts to a nice medium rare. We asked some of the finest writers, globe-trotters, and bookworms around to select your reading material for you.

by Daphne du Maurier
I rebel against the idea that a beach read has to be ‘easy’; personally I save ‘easy’ books for those all-too-regular times of professional angst and emotional chaos. Plus I’m the sort of maddeningly restless traveller that needs to feel like I’m achieving something, even on holiday. So I always travel with two books: one non-fiction, perhaps a music biography (I just read Andrew O’Neill’s wonderful “A History Of Heavy Metal” in Menorca). And then I pack something beautifully written and engaging, which could be anything from Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” or “My Cousin Rachel” to F Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and Damned” or anything by George Eliot. This way I always have something I want to pick up and lose myself in

Ma’am Darling
by Craig Brown
My recommendation would be “Ma’am Darling”, Craig Brown’s biography of Princess Margaret. Because it is told in “99 glimpses”, none of the episodes are so long that your next Almond Magnum is ever going to be unreasonably delayed, and it is just one jaw-dropping tale of rudeness after another, such as when the journalist Keith Waterhouse noticed that the ash was about to drop off her cigarette and so he thoughtfully went to reach an ashtray for her, but she just flicked the ash into his hand. She made people walk into swimming pools fully clothed to bring her a drink while she was bathing. She didn’t miss an opportunity to insult, belittle or humiliate. It’s terrific.

Our Kind of Cruelty
by Araminta Hall
This is a really clever, thought-provoking psychological thriller. Mike and Verity play a highly-charged game called the Crave, when she flirts with other men just so he can warn them off. When their affair ends – against Mike’s will – Verity gets engaged to another man. Is this just a more elaborate version of the Crave? This is a really clever, gripping thriller that makes you wonder who’s playing who, right up until the final chilling chapter. A real white-knuckle read.

Miss You
by Kate Eberlen
I like a beach book to be entertaining, emotionally rich, easy to follow but never dumb. While I love reading autobiographies (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is a must, no joke) and mysteries, my perfect pick is not about thrills or gossip spills. Miss You by Kate Eberlen is a romance where the ‘lovers’ Gus and Tess are meant to be together, but spend their lives narrowly missing each other. We watch them navigate adult life, gaining some bruises and weathering some storms until finally, perhaps, fate wins. It’s masterfully plotted, deeply moving and very clever. I loved it.

English Passengers
by Matthew Kneale
The sun, the sand, the… book that takes you away from all that to a different world. For me it’s English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. This ambitious story (delivered from twenty different viewpoints) tells the story of a voyage in 1857. Everyone has a different reason for being on board, from the Reverend Wilson looking for the Garden of Eden to Dr Potter who seeks to find proof of his difficult views on race. There’s also Peevay, a Tasmanian Aboriginal, detailing the effect of the white settlers on him and his people. I love it because it’s stylish, clever, erudite but above all extremely funny.

The Stench of Honolulu
by Jack Handey
Known in America for his Deep Thoughts books, Jack Handey was a comedy writer on Saturday Night Live for many years, and as far as I can tell, this is the only novel he’s ever written. It’s magnificent, terrifically stupid, and at one point I was urged not to read it on the tube because I kept giggling, and laughter is frowned upon on trains. The opening paragraph reads: “When my friend Don suggested we go on a trip to the South Seas together, and offered to pay for the whole thing, I thought, Fine, but what’s in it for me?”. If that raised a smile, you’d be wise to go all in immediately.