Summer: it’s the season of long, lazy afternoons, holidays at the beach and foreign travel. Though some of that may not be possible this year, one tradition can remain – the holiday read. While some favour a light, romantic beach book, others take the longer holidays as a chance to delve into something more challenging. And when it comes to the depiction of summer in literature, a surprising trend is noticeable. The hot skies and intense heat of the sun often serve as a mask for intense emotion, corruption and drama beneath the surface. Here are some of the best dramatic uses of summer in literature.
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
Sagan’s 1954 debut, published when she was only 18, was an instant success and has become a classic in the subgenre of “summer fiction”. The story of a teenager, Cécile, and her attempt to prevent her father from marrying again is filled with a swelling tension. A must-read for anyone who has ever felt the angst of adolescence.
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
Rumer Godden’s young adult novel should be hailed as the cornerstone of the coming-of-age genre. Five teen siblings discover love, adult desires and the sordid compromises that go with them during a fateful summer in France. Seen through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Cecil, it is both nostalgic and deeply unhappy, drenched in the golden haze of the Marne valley.
End Zone by Don DeLillo
DeLillo’s second novel takes place at the summer training camp for the American football team of Logos College. In place of sultry coming-of-age sexuality, expect absurd and farcical humour, the burning Texas desert and meditations on nuclear warfare. End Zone isn’t quite up there with the best of DeLillo’s postmodern works, but it’s an enjoyable and comic ride through sport and college.
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
If you’re looking for slightly lighter fare, The Dud Avocado is ideal. Witty, charming and helpless Sally Jay Gorce is an American in France, determined to live fast and loose while she has the chance. First in Paris and then on the Riviera, Sally Jay deals with defaulting lovers, film crews and the vagaries of the wildly rich – all while narrating with her inimitable pizzazz. The Dud Avocado is a buoyant delight.
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
Perhaps the most literary of all the works mentioned here, The Leopard is an astonishingly brief masterpiece from di Lampedusa, an Italian nobleman who never lived to see the runaway success of his only novel. It chronicles the fortunes of the Salina family, Sicilian nobility, during the unification of Italy in the 19th century, as they go through the rituals of their summertime existence – the retreat to the country estate, the dinners and prayers – even as their familiar world changes irreversibly. Di Lampedusa’s understated prose is perfect for the ease of a summer day.