Talking Location With author Leigh Russell – YORK
Five great books set on the ISLE OF WIGHT
12th July 2020
The Isle of Wight is the latest place for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Five great books set on the Isle of Wight.
It has been variously called ‘The Diamond in The Solent’, ‘England in Miniature’, and ‘The Gem of the South’, but for many regular visitors to the Isle of Wight, it is the words of philosopher Karl Marx that best sum up its charms: ‘This island is a little paradise’.
And here are five great books set on this little paradise:
Summer of ’76 by Isabel Ashdown
It’s the start of one of the hottest summers on record with weeks without rain: the summer of Abba, T-Rex and David Bowie: of the Notting Hill riots and when Big Ben stopped dead.
Luke Wolff is about to turn 18 and is set to enjoy his last summer at home on the Isle of Wight before leaving for college. His job at a holiday camp promises new friendships and romance. But with the heat and open windows, secrets become harder to hide and his parents’ seemingly ordered lives become unstuck and the community is gripped by scandal.
England, England by Julian Barnes
As every schoolboy knows, you can fit the whole of England on the Isle of Wight. Grotesque, visionary tycoon Sir Jack Pitman takes the saying literally and does exactly that. He constructs on the island ‘The Project’, a vast heritage centre containing everything ‘English’, from Big Ben to Stonehenge, from Manchester United to the white cliffs of Dover. The project is monstrous, risky, and vastly successful. In fact, it gradually begins to rival ‘Old’ England and even threatens to supersede it…
One of Barnes’s finest and funniest novels, England, England calls into question the idea of replicas, truth vs fiction, reality vs art, nationhood, myth-making, and self-exploration.
Sunny Days and Sea Breezes by Carole Matthews
Jodie Jackson is all at sea, in every sense.
On a ferry bound for the Isle of Wight, she’s leaving her London life, her career, and her husband behind. She’d like a chance to turn back the clocks, but she’ll settle for some peace and quiet on her brother Bill’s beautifully renovated houseboat, Sunny Days.
But from the moment Jodie steps aboard her new home, it’s clear she’ll struggle to keep herself to herself. If it isn’t Marilyn, who cleans for Bill and is under strict instructions to look after Jodie, then it’s Ned, the noisy sculptor on the next-door houseboat. Ned’s wood carving is hard on the ears, but it’s made up for by the fact that he’s rather easy on the eyes.
Bustled out of the boat by Marilyn and encouraged to explore with Ned, Jodie soon delights in her newfound freedom. But out of mind isn’t out of sight, and when her old life comes knocking Jodie is forced to face reality. Will she answer the call or choose a life filled with Sunny Days and Sea Breezes?
Tennyson’s Gift by Lynne Truss
In July 1864, a corner of the Isle of Wight is buzzing with literary and artistic creativity. A morose Tennyson is reciting ‘Maud’ to empty sofas: the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is white-washing the roses for visual effect and the mismatched couple, actress Ellen Terry and painter G. F. Watts, are thrown into the company of the remarkable Lorenzo Fowler, the American phrenologist, and his daughter Jessie.
Enter mathematician Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), known to Jessie as the ‘fiendish pedagogue’, and Lynne Truss’s wonderfully imaginative cocktail of Victorian seriousness and riotous farce begins to take flight.
Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift
On an autumn day in 2006, on the Isle of Wight, Jack Luxton, former Devon farmer and now the proprietor of a seaside caravan park, receives the news that his soldier brother Tom, not seen for years, has been killed in Iraq. For Jack and his wife Ellie this will have a potentially catastrophic impact. For Jack in particular it means a crucial journey–to receive his brother’s remains, but also into his own most secret, troubling memories and into the land of his and Ellie’s past.
Wish You Were Here is both a gripping account of things that touch and test our human core and a resonant novel about a changing England. Rich with a sense of the intimate and the local, it is also, inescapably, about a wider, afflicted world. Moving towards an almost unbearably tense climax, it allows us to feel the stuff of headlines–the return of a dead soldier from a foreign war–as heart-wrenching personal truth.
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
Have you been to the Isle of Wight? Do you have a favourite book set there? Have we missed an obvious choice? Please let us know in the comments below!
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