I’ve never been one for reading romances or ‘fluff’ over the summer, and to be honest I find all those recommended ‘easy beach reads’ a bit too easy. I’m in no way a snob about literature, and I enjoy a good ol’ page-turner as much as the next person – but if the writing is flat (ie. ‘easy’) and the characters suck (ie. ‘easy’) my mind wanders off mid-page and I realise halfway through the book that I actually don’t care. I don’t care that some middle-aged woman’s Italian boy toy proves to be unfaithful, or that some boring 25 year old is seeking out the ‘truth’ about an apparent ‘family curse’, or that some sexually frustrated quasi-professional decides that a big root in a small town gives life ‘real’ meaning. These might be fine plotlines, of course, and for a lot of people they’re enjoyable escapism (which is exactly the point) but often times, for me personally, reading them is like eating a kilo of fairy floss – halfway through I’m bored, feeling ill and I just want to bin the whole lot.
So my list of ‘easy’ Summer reads is a little different. I classify an ‘easy read’ as something with enough guts and complexity to keep my attention away from my Instagram feed and the pile of washing I should really be doing. An ‘easy read’ has characters you think are so intriguing that you’ll follow them through 500 pages or more even if they’re just making a cup of tea. An ‘easy read’ challenges your mind enough to keep you thinking about it while you’re swimming at the beach, or throwing together a salad for dinner.
These are some of my favourite books that come under my version of ‘easy reads’. They’re in no way fluffy, and upon reflection it seems I have a penchant for gothic brain-benders on my lazy summer holidays – but I stand by the claim that these are some of the easiest books I’ve ever read. I think they’re easy to read because they’re awesome.
This novel sat on my shelf for a good couple of years before I decided to read it because I thought, with its Dickensian flavour, it might be a little onerous. I was so wrong.
In the slums of Victorian London, orphaned Sue Trinder is raised by a ‘baby-farmer’ and her ‘family’ of petty thieves until one day she leaves to participate in an elaborate con designed to strip a wealthy heiress of all her money. With more twists than a sack of pretzels, this novel is delicious, and every time you think Waters has lulled the story into the land of predictability, she rocks your world again with just one perfectly written sentence.
Okay so this isn’t the chirpiest of plots for your lazy Summer afternoons, but it’s so easy to read you’ll probably get through it in a couple of days. Kent weaves a mesmerising tapestry to depict the final months in the life of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person to be executed in Iceland in 1829. Historical fact and poetic fiction blend seamlessly together so that you will be utterly transported to the harshly beautiful Icelandic landscape, and into the haunting mind of Agnes, whose tale is told so achingly you won’t want it to reach its inevitable end.
Another cheerful choice, this one’s a novel of the plague! Again, inspired by true events, Year of Wonders tells the story of a small English village, Eyam, whose inhabitants voluntarily quarantined themselves when the plague arrived in 1666. Through the eyes of Anna Frith (one of my favourite heroine’s ever), Brooks explores with quiet beauty the effect of such an extraordinary event on ordinary people. It’s a magnetic study of the human capacity to cope and survive.
Oh darling Daphne, she could take me anywhere, I adore all of her novels but Rebecca’s iconic so if you read just one, make this it. In this gothic masterpiece, Mrs Maxim de Winter reflects on her time spent at Manderlay, a mansion in Cornwall, as a young bride to a man she barely knew.The most prominent characters turn out to be Manderlay itself, and the shadowed memory of Mr Maxim de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca, who embodies the way in which a myth can prove more haunting and powerful than reality. While quintessentially gothic, this novel doesn’t feel dark or oppressive. It is indeed mysterious and complex, but not without moments of humour or a sense of affection for our naiive, and always unnamed, Mrs De Winter.
This is one of those novels you can re-read, because the characters are so vivid, and the story so transporting you’ll get something different out of it each time. The protagonist, Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary school dropout recalls memories from his 90 year old mind of the years he worked for a travelling circus through America during the early years of the depression. Ignore the superficial movie version completely, and let yourself fall in love with Jacob, the people and animals he works with, and most of all, Rosie the elephant, in this gorgeous novel.