Life & Style

Sun, Sea & Typography

There’s reading, and then there’s holiday reading – whiling away long days in a hammock, lost in an unforgettable tale. Here, Collagerie’s favourite bibliophile Katie Law shares her pick of the best beach books…
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The Trio by Johanna Hedman (translated by Kira Josefsson)

A slow-burning saga which is already a literary sensation in Hedman’s native Sweden, this lovely debut tells the story of three characters – Thora, Hugo and August – from the alternating viewpoints of Hugo and Thora, whose lives have intersected and separated. Hugo is living alone in New York, having not spoken to Thora since August died more than twenty years ago. One day Thora’s now adult daughter Frances turns up on Hugo's doorstep, asking questions about her parents and their shared past. Memories of heady, hazy, sun-filled summers, and the ambiguous love triangle that defined their lives, come flooding back. Hedman evokes nostalgic longing and regret superbly.

Italy 1900: A Portrait in Color by Giovanni Fanelli

This isn’t a beach read, it’s indulgent armchair travel that feels like taking an idyllic stroll through forgotten places. A compilation of late 19th and early 20th century hand-tinted photographs of what was then the newly-formed Italy offers a rich visual history of places that remain instantly recognisable. Here are boys loitering aimlessly in the back streets of Naples, there is a fruit seller in Como. Here are two visitors perched on the roof of Milan cathedral, there is a lemon grove in Lake Garda. Here are horse carts pulled up in front of the Pantheon in Rome, there is a stunning moonlit photograph taken in front of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. And more. Utterly captivating.

You Have a Friend in 10A by Maggie Shipstead

These short stories from the author of the wonderful ‘Great Circle’ (just out in paperback) cover a characteristically eclectic range of themes. A Montana cattle farmer falls in love with a tomboyish cowgirl, only to have his nephew arrive and throw a spanner in the works. A trail of secrets and lies in an extended French family has devastating consequences for all, an Olympic hurdler and a gymnast are only one of many couples during the Games to enjoy a one-night stand, while a honeymooning couple in Romania lose their way and run into a spot of bother. Shipstead digs deep into her characters’ lives and paints a vivid picture in beautifully rendered, sparse prose. What a talent!

Cat Brushing and Other Stories by Jane Campbell

I can’t work out what I find more pleasing: that the author, a psychoanalyst, is publishing her debut short-story collection at 80, or the stories themselves – about the sexual and emotional desires of older women. Susan has had a stroke and becomes infatuated with her tender young female carer in hospital. Nell discovers wounds on her skin and can’t remember how she got them. Linda spends thirty years stalking a man with whom she once had an affair. And in On Being Alone, an unnamed narrator reflects, heart wrenchingly, what it is to be alone, to live alone and die alone. These are brave stories that are funny, true and immensely affecting.

The Mirror Man by Lars Kepler (translated by Alice Menzies)

The bestselling Swedish married couple writing as Lars Kepler are back with another corking case for the ever-tenacious Detective Joona Linna. And it’s a tough one. School girl Jenny Lind was abducted five years ago and now her body has been found in a Stockholm playground. There was a witness to the crime, but he can’t remember anything because of a serious accident he suffered years earlier. When another girl goes missing, Linna knows there’s a connection but is working on borrowed time if he’s going to save her. This is the eighth Joona Linna in the series and it’s top: twisty, violent and gruesome. I loved every page, right through to its compelling if preposterous climax.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

The weight of expectation that this second novel by Booker Prize-winning Stuart could live up to the brilliance of 'Shuggie Bain' must have been crushing. Yet it does. Mungo, aka Shuggie, is now fifteen. His older brother Hamish runs a violent local gang while his sister Jodie is more of a mother to him than the irresponsible Mo-Maw, who has abandoned her children on the pretext of needing to work. When Mungo makes friends with James, he knows he must be careful, for James is that most hateful thing, a Catholic. That’s not the only secret these two boys must keep in the brutally masculine, working-class Glasgow housing estate in which this wonderfully touching story is set.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid Reid

If you didn’t catch this first time round, grab the paperback now. It’s frothy and fun but never frivolous. Mick and June met in 1950s Malibu, fell in love and had four children. His heart was set on becoming a singer, she just wanted to be a loving mom and housewife. He kept on running off with other women, she eventually drank herself to death. The children grew up, each finding success and saved by their love of surfing. Fast forward, and daughter Nina, now rich and famous herself, is giving her annual beach house party. Dad’s decided to come – and that spells trouble. And a heads-up for TJR fans: ‘Carrie Soto is Back’ comes out at the end of August.

All Our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg (translated by Angus Davidson)

Thanks to indie publisher Daunt Books and the support of novelists like Sally Rooney (who has written an introduction), Ginzburg’s novels are enjoying a well-deserved revival. At over 400 pages long, this is meatier than most and deeply satisfying. It tells the story of an ageing widower in a small northern Italian town, whose daughter Anna gets pregnant at sixteen. She marries an older family friend to save her from shame and they move south to his home village, surviving against the backdrop of the unfolding horrors of war. Ginzburg’s gift is to zoom her lens up close and then out again, all the while shining the light of what Rooney calls her ‘incomparable moral clarity’ with sublime control.

Five Love Affairs and a Friendship: The Paris Life of Nancy Cunard, Icon of the Jazz Age by Anne de Courcy

The biographer of Coco Chanel, Tony Snowden, Diana Mosley and Margot Asquith has turned her gaze to Nancy Cunard, who was beautiful, charming, clever and rich. De Courcy’s focus is the 15 years from 1920 that Cunard spent in Paris, cultivating the company of artists and poets, both in and out of bed. A muse to Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley and Louis Aragon, sculpted by Brancusi and photographed by Man Ray, Cunard led an astonishing life, much of it unfortunately mired in booze. There was also, controversially for the times, her affair with the black American pianist, Henry Crowder. A rip-roaring Twenties tale, with extra sprinkles of history.

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

It’s already being talked about as the novel of the summer, a sprawling, inter-war family saga that begins in 1919 in a crumbling country pile in Dorset when three-year-old Cristabel meets her new stepmother for the first time. She grows up, acquires two half-siblings and rampages her way through the 1920s only to find herself working behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France in WW2. And then of course there are the whale bones she finds on the beach. It took Quinn almost ten years to write this, but her efforts paid off, with publishers clamouring around her. Filled with brilliantly-drawn set-pieces and a huge cast, comparisons to Downton are unfair; it’s better!