“Life was a perpetual holiday in those days”
- The Beautiful Summer, Cesare Pavese.
When I think of summer, I think of languor and indulgence, of long, hazy days, where the normal demarcations of time dissolve like mirages. I think of nature, of parched lawns, of burgeoning romances and tensions, of still air, good food and blue seas.
Perhaps the seasons are characters in themselves. Without the slow, drawn-out days of an Italian summer, the passionate desires of Elio in Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman, would arguably be somewhat diminished.
Sometimes the summer is ripe for new beginnings, representing a threshold for change and transition, as shown in Benjamin Myers’ The Offing. There is good reason for why many coming-of-age stories play out in the months of July and August. It is a period that separates itself from the quotidian of the rest of the year. There is promise and opportunity laid out in those few weeks, as well as time for lingering feelings to bloom and to wilt in the stifling heat.
The summer can also be choking and oppressive, as demonstrated in Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, or Lucie McKnight Hardy’s witchy Water Shall Refuse Them, set against the infamous British heatwave of 1976.
Here at Willoughby, we enjoy a variety of different styles, authors, and genres. We’ve compiled a short list of some of our favourites. Of course, the list isn’t exhaustive, so please let us know your favourite hot summer reads below!
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
First published in 1954 when Francoise Sagan was only 19, this book was swiftly denounced, and earned her a papal denunciation and enormous notoriety and with it, book sales.
17 year old Cécile is spending the summer on the Riviera with her louche widowed father and his young, fashionable mistress. Their carefree holiday is disturbed by the arrival of Anne, an acquaintance of Cécile’s mother, who quickly becomes engaged to Cécile’s father and begins to parent Cécile. Cécile resolves to do what she can to prevent the marriage, and is destined to live with the consequences of her interference.
Light but melancholy, this is a book that will stay with you for far longer than it will take you to read it!
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Set in Malibu in 1983, we are swept up in the planning of a big ‘end of summer’ party being held by Nina River, a professional surfer, and her famous siblings in her beach-front mansion. Everyone who is anyone will be at the party but the party gets out of control, and by the morning the mansion is up in flames.
The story alternates between the early years of the Riva family growing up with a famous rock-star father, and the build-up and the party itself.
I really liked the flashbacks to the 1950’s setting of how June and Mick met, and the description of the long, hot sunny days of the children growing up on the beach. The parts about June, their mum, could be quite emotional and heart-breaking at times.
This book really made me want to be on the sand in the sun with its perfect surf-paradise, beach-setting read.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Set in the early 1930’s in the English countryside somewhere, 17-year-old, Cassandra Mortmain lives with her eccentric and impoverished family in a crumbling castle. Cassandra spends the novel filling notebook after notebook of funny and poignant anecdotes of her life in the countryside, her family and living penniless. This quiet life is disturbed and turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra starts to fall in love for the first time.
A funny and charming coming of age story that will make you wish you were in the green hills of the English countryside.
You Make a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
Taking us into a world of possibility and healing, Emezi’s passionate and touching novel shows the constant battle between love and loss. Following Feyi’s healing after the fatal accident which killed the love of her life, we get to see her battle the hardest questions of life and how she overcomes these.
As Feyi eases back into the dating scene, Feyi isn't ready for anything serious. Yet a chance encounter on a rooftop party turns her life upside down, Feyi spends the summer in a whirlwind. As her new life begins, her perfect relationship may be sabotaged before its even begun as shed begins to lust after the one person who is off limits... this new life of Feyi’s has just got a lot more complicated.
A story of discovery, sexuality, and grief, Feyi’s story is fascinating. I loved watching Feyi’s growth and although I didn’t agree with each decision she made, I felt proud to have been on this journey with her!
You make a fool of death with your beauty is a steamy, intense, and messy slow burn, perfect for those hot summer days and perfect if you love a summer romance.
Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth
Having just finished her Leaving Cert, Saoirse is stuck in that in-between space when you are finished school but you haven't started Uni yet, not really a child anymore but not really an adult yet either. With her dad in a new relationship and her mum in a care home with early onset dementia, Saoirse feels overwhelmed, disillusioned with love and looking for an escape.
When she bumps into Rom-com obsessed Ruby at house party they both find an instant connection and form and unusual deal. They decide to spend this last summer of freedom re-creating all their favourite scenes from their favourite romantic comedies with the agreement to end it all when autumn comes around. No relationship and definitely no love involved.
Well that was the plan...
I love how this story balances the light-hearted summer fun with all her other troubles. Saoirse is fierce and sassy and I really enjoyed watching her grow over the course of the summer. It a book all about the joys of young love and the difficulties of growing up