10 books that are almost as good as going on holiday

Travel‘s no longer on hold, but many Brits are deciding to stay put this summer as we tentatively navigate the new normal.

A safer and much cheaper way to explore the world is through a good book.

The really good ones let the reader dive into new countries and cultures – and perhaps even enjoy a life-shattering holiday romance along the way – all from the safety of the sofa.

So whether you’re yearning for a time gone by or lusting after heady Greek summers, we’ve picked our favourite wanderlust-inducing reads below.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

The second instalment of Elena Ferrante’s coveted Neapolitan novels, The Story of a New Name continues the tale of lifelong friends, Elena and Lila. The novel picks up with Elena travelling the world while Lila has recently married. As with the first book, My Brilliant Friend, the descriptions of Naples and later Ischia, will leave a tantalising taste of Italy in your mouth that you will feel compelled to satiate as soon as you can.

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Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

If you weren’t one of the Brits on the first flights out to Spain earlier this month, then Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk could be the ideal way to trick your brain into holiday mode. Sofia is frustrated trying to solve the mystery of her mother, Rose’s unexplainable illness and so the pair set off to the coast of southern Spain to visit a famous consultant. While the illness only becomes more baffling as time goes on, the desert heat offers more answers than they expected.

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Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

An instant classic when it was released in 1989, Like Water for Chocolate is a heady romance novel set in turn-of-the-century Mexico. Each of the 12 sections is named after months of the year and a Mexican recipe is given at the start of each section – cook along for a fully immersive experience. The novel itself follows Tita, the youngest of the all-female De La Garza family who is forbidden to marry and condemned to Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies – but when she meets Pedro, all of this changes.

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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

If you’ve always wanted to go to the Amazon, Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel, State of Wonder, will transport you into the rainforest’s depths. After lab researcher Anders Eckman dies in mysterious circumstances, Dr. Marina Singh retraces his steps into the rainforest to seek out her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, who also disappeared while developing a new drug. With Patchett’s vivid descriptions and heavily researched details, it’s a book you won’t soon forget.

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Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald

Best for: those who have ever dreamed of uprooting your life and moving to a new country.

When Australian journalist Sarah Macdonald backpacked around India in her early 20s she decided that she wasn’t so fond of the country after all. But when an airport beggar read her palm and predicted she would come back one day for true love, she scoffed it off … until it happened. This memoir will throw you into the depths of New Delhi as Macdonald struggles with a sudden illness, visits a meditation retreat in Dharamsala and the biggest Hindu festival on earth on the steps of the Ganges in Varanasi.

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

Best for: transporting you back to New York in the 70s.

A love story that ends as an elegy, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has transported me to another time as much as Patti Smith’s memoir. We meet Smith in the late 60s. She’s just moved to New York City and a chance meeting with young artist Robert Mapplethorpe leads to a lifelong friendship. The backdrop is Brooklyn, Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City, Scribner’s Bookstore, Coney Island and Warhol’s Factory – it’s hard to put down and you’ll suddenly wish you had been an aspiring creative in New York City in the early 70s.

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Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

Best for: Hydra dreaming.

Described by Standard writer Marcus Field as ‘a novel which combines the quintessential summer reading ingredients of crystal-clear waters, cold white wine and gripping suspense’. Beautiful Animals paints such a vivid picture of Hydra that you’ll be itching to visit as soon as you can.

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A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke

Best for: those who dream of warm Moroccan evenings.

After buying a run-down riad in the Moroccan town of Fez with her husband, Suzanna Clarke was determined to restore it to its original glory. Speaking no Arabic and little French, Clarke and her husband immersed themselves in Moroccan life – from its history, religion, festivals and, of course, cuisine. Beautifully descriptive, you’ll feel as if you’ve moved to Morocco yourself.

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All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes by Maya Angelou

Best for: a touching tribute to an African homeland.

In the fifth instalment of Maya Angelou’s seven-volume autobiography, the poet reminisces about joining a group of Black American expatriates in Ghana in the early 60s. She discovers that you can never go home again, but finds love and friendship and develops a new awareness for civil rights and slavery. Angelou’s evocative imagery transports you to her world and will leave you wanting to discover more.

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The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot

Best for: foodies with a penchant for travelling.

Part cookbook, part travel ode, The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth was written in the 70s by journalist Roy Andries de Groot. It describes his visit to the guesthouse of the same name which was run by two French women who would serve twice daily six-course meals accompanied by local wine. Intertwining recipes with detailed descriptions of life in France, foodies, in particular, will love this.

Buy it here


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