The best thing about hot weather may be dreaming about it. Trees gently nod (whether praising or scolding, we can’t tell), butterflies hover over the flowering weeds, a hammock is strategically located under the tree, people lounge in lawn chairs wearing Lawrence of Arabia clothes (or at least something cotton), one snaps one’s fingers to get a drink – No, in reality I’m pouring glasses of iced violet Early Grey tea from a pitcher.
In the summer I adore reading books set in hot places. Do you?
Here are some hot-weather classics!
Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky. In this gorgeous, lyrical novel, three Americans roam through the cities and deserts of North Africa. They sweat, chat, and struggle back to consciousness after sleeping uncomfortably in tiny rooms, then drink at cafes. They travel but lack all knowledge of the culture, so their journey is more dangerous than they imagine. Bowles is a great American writer: every sentence is perfectly-wrought and lush..
Here’ s an excerpt.
In the next room he could hear his wife stepping about in her mules on the smooth tile floor, and this sound now comforted him… But how difficult it was to accept the high, narrow room with the beamed ceiling, the huge apathetic designs stenciled in in different colors around the walls, the closed window of red and orange glass. He yawned: there was no air in the room. Later he would climb down from the high bed and fling the window open, and at that moment he would remember his dream.
Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger deservedly won the Booker Prize in 1987. Claudia H, a 76-year-old historian, is musing on the meaning of history (from the Greek and Latin, inquiry, story). She is also writing “a history of the world , concentrating on “the bit of the twentieth century to which I’ve been shackled, like it or not.” Parts are set during the Desert War in her childhood, parts in Cairo during the World War II, parts in England. Interspersed with the narrative are musings on abstract subjects like mythology: it “is much better stuff than history. It has a form; logic; a message. I once thought I was a myth.”
Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet. I read these novels in a hammock ages ago, when I was twenties and did not shave my legs. In this gorgeously-written, percipient tetralogy, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea, the prose is moody and lush. The narrative is psychologically-oriented and fragmented. Over the course of the quartet, Durrell’s narrator, Darley, reiterates and augments a series of events in the lives of his lover Justine and a group of friends in Alexandria, Egypt. Other characters, particularly Balthazar and Clea (Mountolive is the hero of the prequel), contribute their viewpoints, so that a clearer picture is revealed. Published from 1957 to 1960, these books are elegant but perhaps too flowery for some.
T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Of course I haven’t read it! I have, however, seen the movie twice, admiring the excellent performance of Peter O’Toole. :Seven Pillars of Wisdom is an autobiography focusing on the two years he spent as an advisor to Bedouin Forces during the Arab Revolt (1916-18). It has been on our shelves for years. Neither my husband nor I can bear to part with it. This may be the summer one of us finally reads this alleged masterpiece.
Several of Rumer Godden’s novels are set in India, where she grew up and lived for many years As you can imagine, the weather is often hot. You will find desperately humid weather scenes in Cromartie vs. the God Shiva, The Lady and the Unicorn, The Peacock Spring, and Coromandel Sea Change.
Olivia Manning’s The Rain Forest. Fans of Olivia Manning will enjoy her short, tightly-plotted novel The Rain Forest (352 pages), published in 1974, set on an island in the Indian Ocean. This hypnotic story of an expatriate couple living on a hot, jasmine-scented island ruled by the British is a trenchant examination of colonialism and culture clash. It is reminiscent of the novels and stories of Graham Greene and W. Somerset Maugham.
It’s heating up here, though we still haven’t needed the air conditioning. Cheers to everyone who likes hot-weather books!