most recently Germany, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and California.
In Germany, I read (for about the 6th time) one of my favourite novels – 'The Good Soldier' by Ford Madox Ford. The dazzlingly constructed narrative unfolds in the spa town of Bad Nauheim, north of Frankfurt. So I absolutely had to go there.
I strolled around the gardens, looked into the bath houses, had lunch in what is now a cafe but which retains the architectural and indoor design features of the spa's heyday - domed ceiling, leather upholstery, stained glass windows - and which I imagined to be where Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, Florence and John Dowell (the latter the story's unreliable narrator) took tea and listened to the Kurhaus orchestra.
My husband was reading another of my favourite novels - 'A Legacy' by Sybille Bedford, set in pre-WW1 Germany. The narrator's childhood is spent in West Berlin, the Vosges – Alsace and Lorraine then being part of Germany – and Baden Baden in France. It is a mesmerising, absorbing novel, against the background of rising Prussian influence after the unification of Germany, formally declared in 1871.
My Hong Kong choice is John Le Carré's 'The Honorable Schoolboy'. "The hills were slate under the stacks of black cloud bank. Six months ago the sight would have had him cooing with pleasure. The harbour, the din, even the skyscraper shanties that clambered from the sea's edge upward to the Peak: after Saigon, Luke had ravenously embraced the whole scene. But all he saw today was a smug, rich British rock run by a bunch of plum-throated traders whose horizons went no further than their belly-lines." A cracking plot, some familiar characters from earlier novels about 'the circus' –George Smiley, Connie Sachs, Peter Guillam, Fawn, and of course, Karla.
And what else to read in Vietnam but Graham Greene's "The Quiet American"?
The eponymous pivot of the story is Alden Pyle - referred to always by the narrator – journalist, Tom Fowler - as 'Pyle".
Fowler is a cynic, but like all cynics, is a romantic at heart. He is in love with the beautiful, child-like Phuong, who keeps picture books of the Royal Family and dreams of living in England or the United States. Pyle falls for Phuong at first sight, and his offer of marriage and life in the US outpoints anything Fowler has to offer.
The counterpoint to this love triangle is the story of Pyle's involvement - one could say meddling - in the politics of the war between the Vietminh and the French colonial army. "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," says Fowler. And when Fowler realises what Pyle's well-intentioned but disastrous actions have led to, he finds he can't remain a detached observer. But his moral intentions in intervening are compromised by his need to win back Phuong.
Who else but Raymond Chandler for California? Hard to choose which one, but The Long Goodbye is considered by many fans and critics to be his best.
My next trip will be to the Côte d'Azur where much of my second novel, "Meeting Point", is set. I will re-read it, but also take with me "Bonjour Tristesse", by Francoise Sagan, first published in 1954. It will be interesting to see if it stands the test of time.
Happy holiday reading!
My next trip will be to the Côte d'Azur where much of my second novel, "Meeting Point", is set. I will