A reading vacation

Janet Clapp
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Vacation, whether it’s a tour of Europe, a sojourn to the seaside, or a trip to the mountains, is a time away from the everyday world. No matter how far you go, however, you can’t entirely escape the person you are or the problems in your life. Below is a collection of novels that take place during a vacation.

 

 

Us

by David Nicholls

“But she really did seem very excited by it all, and perhaps it would make a change from our recent family holidays, the three of us restless, bitten and sun-burnt in some expensive villa or fighting for our tiny share of the Mediterranean coast.” Not long before a European tour that Douglas Petersen has planned meticulously, his wife announces she wants a separation. Still, the two of them and their teenage son Albie embark on the trip. The narrative alternates between the history of Douglas and Connie’s relationship and their travels in the present.

“’Kitsch,’ said Albie, presenting with his eyes the award for Most Banal Remark Ever Made in an Art Gallery. Perhaps this was why those museum audio-guides had become so popular; a reassuring voice in your ear, telling you what to think and feel. Look to your left, take note, please observe; how terrific it would be to carry that voice with you always, out of the museum and throughout all of life.” Both literally and figuratively, this is a humorous and touching journey of a couple and a family.

Swimming Home

by Deborah Levy

“The swimming pool in the grounds of the tourist villa was more like a pond than the languid blue pools in holiday brochures…The body was floating near the deep end, where a line of pine trees kept the water cool in their shade.” Two families share a villa in Nice, France when a strange, beautiful young woman is discovered in the pool. Offered a room, she exacerbates the tensions among those present. “The young woman was a window waiting to be climbed through. A window that she guessed was a little broken anyway.” Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012, this book describes not a happy vacation, but the experiences of several characters uneasily sharing a holiday house.

The Vacationers

by Emma Straub

“There were things that Jim would have taken out of his bags, if it had been possible: the last year of his life…the emptiness waiting on the other side of the return flight, the blank days he would have to fill and fill and fill.” Franny’s husband Jim lost his job, their daughter Sylvia will be off to college soon, their son Bobby brought his girlfriend Carmen, who nobody really likes, and friends Charles and Lawrence are hoping to adopt a baby. “This was what Franny liked the most about being on vacation, the moments when no one was worried about what they should or should not be doing and just did exactly what was right.” Gathered together in a house on the island of Mallorca, each character takes a fresh look at life.

The Girls of August

by Anne Rivers Siddons

“The girls of August…A silly name for four women who, after a decade and a half of never missing an August together, were approaching middle age, fretting over crow’s-feet and reaching for skin cream.” For years, Maddy, Rachel, Barbara and Melinda shared an annual beach vacation away from their doctor husbands. When Melinda died, the gatherings stopped. Now Melinda’s widower encourages them to start the tradition again with his new young wife, Baby. “There were only sea, sky, and the approaching island. We had certainly gotten what we’d always said was one of our criteria for these August getaways: isolation…White sands, clear water, coastal scrub leading into some sort of hardwood jungle hummock.” A true beach read.

Hello Goodbye

by Emily Chenoweth

“In a grand place like this, it seemed possible that everything might get a little better. She could imagine her father relaxing, her mother feeling stronger, and herself becoming kinder and more attentive. Maybe for a week, she thought, they could all be happy, transformed by the hotel’s elegance and order into superior versions of themselves.” Helen Hansen is diagnosed with cancer, her husband Elliott has been taking care of her, and their daughter Abby has finished her first year of college. Gathering with old friends, they vacation in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. “So he had summoned their friends to this place where they would eat and drink and reminisce, and when they left, they would say for the last time, goodbye.” A pall of sadness hangs over this story in a resort setting.

Mermaids in Paradise

by Lydia Millet

“We’d been living the American Dream, or the American-Caribbean Dream — call it the American-Caribbean Honeymoon Dream. Whatever you call it, I’d felt clothed in its raiment of sun and sex and booze, lassitude, freedom from opinion.” Honeymooners Deb and Chip are enjoying a resort in the Caribbean when a scientist discovers mermaids. “What shocks me the most, in retrospect is that within the next few days I would assimilate the mermaids handily. One moment they were impossible, the next they were everyday, in my view of the world.” When the media and profiteers descend, the adventure begins in this humorous and satirical tale.

Happy reading and vacationing!

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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