As predicted yesterday Edward St Aubyn's Some Hope did not make it on to the holiday reading list after all, having been finished last night courtesy of a massive thunderstorm outside that coincided with early attempts at sleep. Today's list therefore includes seven books rounding off the baker's dozen destined for the Ile de Ré and a fortnight of literary bliss and bad local rosé.
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
During a recent long drive to beautiful Extramadura I was reintroduced to Bryson by the audio version of his latest UK jaunt, The Road to Little Dribbling. The years have not dulled Bryson's acerbic wit or acute observational skills- if anything he's angrier, more profane and less forgiving, much like the country he writes about. I subsequently discovered that since I last read one of his books he's written loads more, and I'm quite taken by the idea of him writing about Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.
The Past by Tessa Hadley
Chalk this one up to the power of in-store marketing. You couldn't move in either of the Waterstones I visited without tripping over a display of the paperback version of Tessa Hadley's latest novel. Not that I took a lot of persuading. I loved The London Train and this tale of family tensions on a summer holiday has the merit of timeliness.
White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen
Another Watersones-inspired purchase, as Peirene's excellent selection of short European novels was given well-deserved space in the fiction tables in Trafalgar Square, reminding me it had been a while since I last picked one of these up. Having spent a lot of time in Finland, and having tremendous admiration for the resourcefulness of Finns, this story of survival in an 1867 famine looked the most compelling of those on offer. This is another chance to plug the excellent Peirene Press, which has now brought more than 20 of these European gems to the English language market, and about which I wrote this piece two years ago.
The Fireman by Joe Hill
This one might be the challenge. At 750 plus pages, it's a monster but if ever there's time for a post apocalyptic epic, then surely it is now. I've not read Joe Hill before although he comes highly recommended and this feels sufficiently (Stephen) King-esque to persuade me to take the plunge. No viruses or vampires here, in this story the world is at threat from an outbreak of spontaneous combustion. And why not?
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl made Gillian Flynn an international superstar, but it is her previous two novels, Sharp Objects and particularly Dark Places that have lived on with me. Flynn can be painfully terrifying in her writing, and so a ghost story, even at just 97 pages, is impossible to resist.
A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough
The first volume of the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy, described as a supernatural, sci-fi police procedural has been on my wishlist for a good long time. Sarah Pinborough is a writer of considerable range and I've hugely enjoyed all the stuff I've read from her before, including The Death House, a highlight of last year's holiday reading.
Spain: The Centre of the World by Robert Goodwin
The Plaza Colón in the centre of Madrid, which features the largest flag I've ever seen, is a regular reminder of the time when Spain's explorers and conquistadors delivered the world to the Iberian peninsula and made it the world's pre-eminent power. If you were educated in the British system (as I was) Spanish history is something explored almost exclusively through the medium of Drake and the Armada. If you live in Spain (as I do) that's not really an acceptable level of historical knowledge and I'm really looking forward to a book that promises to be entertaining as well as educational.