Because despite our best efforts, just doing books set in Mallorca was very hard. So here are our five favourite novels set in Spain, inspired by one of our May book group picks, The Rocks by Peter Nichols. As ever, tweet us with books you think we’ve missed – @CBBookGroup. Let’s dive in…
1. The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
Okay, this one is set in Mallorca, and is one of our favourite intelligent beach reads. The Lemon Grove is a novel replete with lust and tension – Jenn, a woman approaching middle age, is on holiday with her husband, step-daughter and step-daughter’s boyfriend, Nathan. So begins an illicit longing on Jenn’s part, as she struggles to navigate the volatile set of relationships that have suddenly arisen in their tight family group: her step-daughter’s burgeoning sexuality, her husband’s secret, causing stress on his part, combined with Nathan’s ripe masculinity cause Jenn to act in a way you know is going to end in disaster, but feels somehow inevitable. It’s a satisfying and finely observed novel set against the backdrop of a sweltering summer.
2. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Though it’s not entirely set in Spain, the bull fighting in this iconic novel, which established Hemingway as one of the greats, makes it one that we simply couldn’t miss off. Protagonist Jake Barnes, an ex-pat living in Paris, is a journalist who’s been wounded in WW1. However, what we’re most interested in is his travel to Spain where he and his friends go to Pamplona to watch the bull fighting in some of the most recognisable passages in American literature (we think, anyway). Yes, Hemingway isn’t the easiest writer of all time, but this straight talking American novel is filled with some wonderful quotes, and scenes which will make you want to jump on a plane and head to the nearest Spanish bar.
3. Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom
We feel like it’s fitting to put this book after Hemingway, as Sansom’s writing seems to channel an earlier style, akin to Hemingway, Greene or even, in places, Maugham. Set in 1940’s (you guessed it) Madrid, it’s a thriller with heart – a tense, supremely well written novel that charts the fates of a tangle of characters: Harry Brett, a British spy; Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend of Harry upon whom Harry is sent to spy, due to his involvement with the Fascists; Bernie Piper, presumed dead by everyone but Sandy’s ‘wife’, Barbara, who insists he is alive; and Sofia, Harry’s Spanish lover. Leading to a climactic ending, this is a clever and quietly compelling read.
4. The Return by Victoria Hislop
A classic time slip novel, a genre in which Hislop excels, this romantic but fiercely researched novel is set in Granada, Spain, both in the present day and during the Spanish Civil War. Sonia Cameron, a middle aged woman from England, has travelled to Granada to pursue her new found love of salsa, following the discovery of old pictures of her mother in Spain. A parallel story emerges once Sonia reaches Spain – that of the Ramirez family during the 1930’s. Love stories, passionate flamenco dancing, the trials of bull fighting: it’s all here in a novel of family and war which asks nothing more of the reader than to enjoy it.
5. The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon Gough
Is this a novel? Is it a memoir? Is it something else altogether? These are questions you’ll ask yourself repeatedly as you read – perhaps ‘experience’ is a better word – The White Goddess. The book is predominantly a telling of Gough’s interactions with his great uncle (or rather, grand uncle: ‘Great is for steamships and railway lines, don’t you think? Grand is for fathers and uncles, and Russian dukes, of course!’), Robert Graves, from whom’s book this one takes its title. A young Simon’s experiences in Deia, Mallorca, echo those of characters Luca and Aegina in The Rocks, as he encounters Graves for the first time aged 11 in the bohemian paradise. You can almost see Lulu there…
The Rocks by Peter Nichols is published by Quercus Books in hardback, and will be available in paperback on July 2nd.