We all know that reading has the power to transport you elsewhere, but as keen travellers, the best books in our view not only do that, but also immerse us in a new destination. Here, we’ve selected six of the best books that bring to life a brilliant story, with a real sense of place.
1. All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr will transport you back in time to Paris
In this novel, 12-year old Marie-Laure, who is blind, is forced to flee her home with her father when Paris becomes occupied by the Germans in World War II. They escape to the walled citadel of Saint Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive uncle owns a house by the sea. Meanwhile in Germany, Werner is an orphan, whose genius engineering skills land him a place in a tough military academy. His expertise is initially used to track transmissions across Russia and Central Europe before he’s referred to Saint Malo, where Marie-Laure’s uncle is working on behalf of the resistance. This page-turning novel is tense, captivating, and will have you yearning to know what happens next.
2. Call me by your name, by André Aciman, will immerse you in the Italian riviera
Set in the Italian Riviera, this heated love story will transport you to the cliffside town in which it’s rooted and given our current circumstances, that sounds pretty good to us. Elios, a 17-year old boy, grows up in his parents’ cliffside mansion in the province of Liguria. Each summer, doctoral students are welcomed as house guests to assist Elios’ father with academic papers. It was a tradition he hated, until an unexpected guest is the catalyst for a sudden and powerful romance, where both are unprepared for the consequences. This book will provide passionate escapism – it’s sensitive, powerful, and will leave a lasting impression.
3. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud will transport you to the souks and scenery of Marrakech
This semi-autobiographical novel by Esther Freud – daughter of British painter Lucian Freud and Bernardine Coverley, and Sigmund Freud’s great-granddaughter – evocatively captures the author’s bohemian childhood in Morocco, with her mother and her older sister, Bella. The family swaps rainy, grey Sixties England for the sunshine and spices of Marrakech, settling in a rough-around-the-edges hotel, where they struggle to make ends meet. Capturing the dappled sunlight of Marrakech’s courtyards and the thrill of sugar-laced mint tea and unfamiliar foods, this book is a vivid account of an unconventional childhood, complicated by the appearance of father-figure Bilal, an acrobat and conman.
4. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys will whisk you off to Jamaica and Dominica
Jean Rhys’ 1966 novel is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre, written from the perspective of Antoinette Cosway: Mr Rochester’s first wife, also known as ‘Bertha’, or ‘the madwoman in the attic’. Exploring themes of race, Caribbean identity, marriage, and power dynamics between men and women, this book puts a feminist, postcolonial spin on Brontë’s classic. With its lush prose, it richly conjures the landscapes of Jamaica and Granbois: Antoinette’s mother’s summer estate on the island of Dominica, where Antoinette and her husband spend their honeymoon. As the marriage sours, this Edenic estate becomes increasingly sinister and Antoinette struggles against an impending sense of doom, increased by the hostility of her husband and a man called Daniel, who claims to be her illegitimate half-brother. This dark tale weaves together voodoo, paranoia and betrayal.
5. On The Road by Jack Kerouac will take you on an epic road trip across the United States
This iconic novel from Kerouac loosely follows the real-life adventures of the author and his friends as they made their Beat Poet pilgrimage across the States. A love letter to jazz, poetry, and psychedelics, the novel is considered a defining work of the post-war Beat and Counterculture generations. The book focuses on the friendship between the narrator, Sal Paradise, and his irreverent hero: the swaggering, lusty figure of Dean Moriarty (based on Kerouac’s great friend, Neal Cassady). Dean defies convention, woos women, masters cars, and leaves a trail of destruction, broken hearts and mystery in his wake. Expect a whistle-stop tour of San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Detroit and Mexico City, in irrepressible company.
6. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell will immerse you in the sun-drenched beauty of Corfu
It’s hard to think of a more lovable travel book than this autobiographical treasure from Gerald Durrell: the British author, naturalist, writer, zookeeper, conservationist and presenter. Also made into a very popular TV adaptation, the book captures the Durrell family’s madcap life on the Greek island of Corfu in the mid 1930s, with a coterie of four-legged and feathered friends. The book shimmers with humour and Durrell’s effervescent love of nature, nostalgically capturing the unspoiled beauty of the island before tourism took effect. Local characters such as Spiros and Dr. Theodore Stephanides are captured as brilliantly as the author’s family: his two brothers (larger-than-life Larry and gun-toting Leslie), his teenage sister, Margo, their resilient widowed mother, and loyal Roger the dog.
Ready to go? Pick out the hand luggage to take you there.