Summer is lying heavily on us right now, and the oppressive heat does seem to stir up all sorts of mischief and mayhem. I long to retreat to Cowper's shaded wood, but instead I must find my refreshment in the pages of novels.
I rarely read (or do anything else, for that matter) with much method . . . instead, I tend to flit from book to book as fancy dictates.
But I was so entranced by Hearts and Minds last month that I immediately resolved to read all of Amanda Craig's novels -- in the order that they were written. It was the easiest of tasks, as they are just the sort of fiction that I like best: well-written, intelligent, and peopled by interesting, complex characters.
Craig has a penchant for unlikeable protagonists, and there is something slightly sharp and sour in most of her novels. She tells a fast-paced, often episodic, story in a manner which reminds me of Jilly Cooper (but more highbrow). Like Cooper, she links the novels together with recurring characters. Now that I am well-acquainted with her fictional universe, I can't wait to see whose story will be continued.
As the briefest of synopses, and in chronological order:
Foreign Bodies -- the coming-partially-to-age story of a young woman who flees from England to Italy to learn about love and art
A Private Place - an unlikely romance is a catalyst for adolescent anarchy in a "progressive" English boarding school
A Vicious Circle - love and ambition in the fiercely cynical world of London journalism
In a Dark Wood - a middle-aged actor, dissolute and newly divorced, learns more than he bargains for when he starts delving into his past
Love in Idleness - when family and friends go on holiday together in Tuscany, romance and confusion ensues -- a la A Midsummer Night's Dream
As happenstance would have it, I started reading Love in Idleness -- the last of my stash of Craig novels -- at the height of the summer solstice. Descriptions of languorous summer days and the sensual Italian landscape seemed as appropriate as Insalata Caprese for lunch.
If you've ever shared a holiday home, you will readily recognize some of the inevitable conflicts: differences in expectations and budgets, clashing parenting styles, and perceived inequalities in sharing the work-load. Into this prosaic mix, Craig introduces love and lust and a few otherworldly elements.
In some sense, we always abandon our workaday selves when we go on vacation. Being in a less defined, less restrained environment allows for all sorts of possibilities. Like Shakespeare before her, Craig understands that love is transformative, too . . . and that sometimes we suffer from delusions and, yes, make asses of ourselves. If you know the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream, you will enjoy finding the parallels between characters and plot, but it is certainly not necessary for an appreciation of this delightful story.
At the moment, as so many of us are packing and preparing for our summer holidays, we are also casting about for the perfect summer book. Love in Idleness manages to ooze heat, and yet it is as light and bubbly as a glass of good Prosecco.
So now I've been to Italy, but does anyone have a good suggestion for Spain?