Books to Read by The Pool
Tab writers’ favourite reads for a long, hot afternoon. Pina Colada optional.
Set in 1960’s Tokyo, Norwegian Wood follows university student Toru facing more than his fair share of life’s difficulties. It is a beautiful, romantic novel that deals with complex relationships and young love. Toru’s desire is for the mysterious and fragile Naoko; whose haunting past threatens their existence together. In the midst of facing his feelings he faces moral decisions accompanying his adulterous friend, has to bare an obsessive-compulsive room-mate, and falls for an impetuous classmate, casting further doubts over his future.
The story, without being overly complex, is gripping and very moving, and the subtle, justified erotic scenes really creep up on you. The less said about that the better.
Norwegian Wood is a dazzling example of unanswered questions, growing pains and love that can never be.
The Godfather – Mario Puzo
My favourite film and my favourite book. In fact, part of the reason for the success of Coppola’s cinema version is that he pays so much respect to Mario Puzo’s beautifully written source novel.
The detail of the characters, locations and scenarios all come from the web that Puzo creates in his novel, and any Godfather fan will be shocked at how much deeper Puzo goes down the mafia rabbit hole than any filmmaker has the time or money to do.
One addition that was certainly only hinted at in the film is the size of Santino Corleone’s manhood, which makes for, in my opinion, one of the best sex scenes ever written, as he fumbles with bridesmaid Lucy Mancini at his sister’s wedding.
The Godfather is long enough to last a whole holiday, and detailed enough to ensure that you don’t sleep with the fishes while reading, and that’s an offer you just can’t refuse.
Love In A Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
There’s something quite deliciously indulgent about this books. Girl grows up under Pollyanna-style tyranny and is then released into society decked in diamonds and under the shadow of her infamous mother The Bolter. Sorted.
Ah, but this – kind of – Nancy Mitford’s real life being described; 50 years before the advent of the sobfiction genre, Mitford spins us a tale of woe, the Hons cupboard, and hobnobbing with the rich, famous and influential, and – what’s this? A Communist, a Fascist and a Nazi-supporter amongst her vast roster of sisters? (for more of which, read Wigs on The Green).
For the sheer escapism of Brideshead Revisited minus the moralising and concluding sense of overall hopelessness, for Cedric Hampton, one of the best GBFs in 20th century literature, Love in a Cold Climate is fabulous beside the pool with a pina colada in your hand.
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
I confess, I’m no English student, as a linguist I can only pretend to be literary, spouting half digested criticisms in a clichéd parody of scholarship. So, fittingly, my recommendation was not initially written in English, instead I’m espousing Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘Cien Años de Soledad’, or ‘100 years of Solitude’, as it is better known in English. This is a magical saga of a book, spanning the hundred years of a family’s life in the fictional town of Macondo, Colombia.
The exotic setting will whisk you away from whatever dreary sun lounger you happen to be inhabiting, into a world of magical realism, where young girls are drawn into heaven wrapped in laundry, and it rains for four years, eleven months and two days. And if, come October, you fancy discussing the metafictive elements or the fluidity of time in the novel, come find me.
In Praise of Older Women – Stephen Vizinczey
I am concerned by the cultural phenomenon that is The MILF. By the very words for which it stands, establishes relationships between younger men and older women as purely sexual fantasy-fulfilment mainly focused on our own mothers. As Gordon Ramsay once observed of a frozen chicken, “you don’t fuck it, you make love to it”.
And that’s really the subject of Vizinczey’s masterpiece. Sure, come ogle at a character having a relationship with women of greater charm, sophistication, sexual prowess and confidence than himself (that’s really the root of the problem that people have with the older woman-younger man thing, I think), but you’ll leave with an appreciation of the subtleties of sexuality conveying things about self, other and world, all set against the existential backdrop of communist Hungary. The prose is exquisitely controlled and measured, Vizinczey being one of those authors for whom English is a second language, yet whose skill with it boggles the mind, like Nabokov or, possibly, Pam Ayres. The use and abuse of love and sex between younger men and older women forms a backdrop to the broader story of personal and political development that ranks alongside Philip Roth’s American Pastoral or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward as an exploration of relationships and alienation in post-war modernity.
This book is going to be big. Read it now so you can look clever when it is, and maybe try flirting with the next Mrs. Robinson to cross your path. As long as it’s not my (or Stacey’s) Mom.