it’s still June and already records have been broken. I feel quite fortunate to live in Edinburgh and not Spain. But I’m fascinated by extremes of temperature. In fact I’ve got the first draft of a MG book which is set entirely in the summer of 1976, when all our current records were set – until yesterday. I decided to set it back then for several reasons, one of which is that the book is about jealousy, and to me, jealousy and heat are somehow linked.
This got me thinking about other books which rely on extremes of temperature. Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave is set during that 1976 summer, and although the book is character driven with family relationships at its heart, the heat certainly adds to the atmosphere.
I’ve just finished reading Jane Harper’s The Lost Man, and it is not a spoiler to reveal that the death to be investigated happens to someone who dies from the heat of the Australian Outback. If you have not yet discovered Jane Harper, I would urge you to do so. This is her third crime novel set in Outback Australia, and I love her portrayal of that arid zone and the people who eek out a living there.
On the theme of Australia – and if you are talking about heat, it’s a place which is hard to avoid – A Town Called Alice by Nevil Shute, which I read as a teenager, was the book which had me longing to visit the outback. Maybe part of the appeal came from reading it while trying to survive a winter in an unheated house in the Highlands of Scotland.
Picture – Me in Alice Springs… at last!
But maybe it’s cheating to include books set in places where the heat is ubiquitous and the characters used to it. After all, the point about setting a book in a heatwaves is that characters are not used to it. So I will mention Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, one of my favourite books. Set in the Belgian Congo (which became Zaire during the novel and which is now called The Democratic Republic of the Congo) a missionary and his family attempt to put down roots in a small community, but the father refuses to acknowledge the demands of the climate. To me the climate is so much a part of this brilliant book.
We Were Liars by E Lockhart is a YA novel set during the summer school holidays on a private island in the Hamptons. While this is a seriously creepy disturbing book, I loved those descriptions of idyllic summer days.
The act for which Briony must atone in Ian McEwan’s Atonement occurs during the summer of 1935, and without the long summer days, I am sure it would not have happened. The film, starring James MacAvoy and Keira Knightley – plus a young Saoirse Ronan, is the work of genius.
There are no doubt many other books which rely on long hot summers – would Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have happened if she hadn’t fallen asleep in the summer sun? Drop me a line if you have any to recommend – we could be facing quite a few more scorchers before the summer is out.