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Ten Great Books set in CRETE

5th September 2021

Crete is the latest location for our ‘Ten Great Books Set In…’ series. Ten great books set in Crete. The largest island in Greece, Crete is a diverse and vibrant land packed with ancient ruins, buzzing cities and breathtaking beaches. Many people come here for the sun, sea and sand yet the best things to do in Crete include much more than the standard Mediterranean beach holiday. There is history to be explored.

‘He was moderately truthful towards men, but to women lied like a Cretan’ – Thomas Hardy

Ten Great Books set in CRETEZorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Set before the start of the First World War, this moving fable sees a young English writer set out to Crete to claim a small inheritance. But when he arrives, he meets Alexis Zorba, a middle-aged Greek man with a zest for life. Zorba has had a family and many lovers, has fought in the Balkan wars, has lived and loved – he is a simple but deep man who lives every moment fully and without shame. As their friendship develops, the Englishman is gradually won over, transformed and inspired along with the reader.

The Dark Labyrinth by Lawrence Durrell

This captivating Mediterranean novel was written by Lawrence Durrell immediately after finishing his exquisite vignette about Corfu, Prospero’s Cell, and a decade before Justine. The story is set on Crete just after the War, as an odd assortment of English travellers come ashore from a cruise ship to explore the island and in particular to examine a dangerous local labyrinth. They include an extrovert painter, a spiritualist, a Protestant spinster with a fox terrier, an antiquarian peer and minor poet, a soldier with guilty memories of the Cretan resistance, a pretty convalescent and an eccentric married couple.

To some extent the book is a roman à clef and Durrell’s characters talk with great reality about their experiences, themselves and a certain psychological unease that has led most of them to embark on their journey. The climax is a disastrous visit to the labyrinth, with its reported minotaur. The novel is a gripping piece of story-telling, full of atmosphere and the vivid first-hand writing about Mediterranean landscape and people of which Durrell was a master.

Ten Great Books set in CRETEThe House of Dust and Dreams by Brenda Reid

Greece 1936.

A young British diplomat and his wife have been posted to Athens. Hugh loves the life there but his spirited and unconventional wife, Evadne, finds it hard to fit in with the whirl of endless parties and socialising.

When Hugh is sent to Crete to sort out a problem, they stay in a rundown house owned by his family. His wife falls in love with the place and the people, and stays on when Hugh returns to his duties. As she tries to rebuild the ramshackle home, Evadne – known as Heavenly by the locals – makes firm friends with Anthi, a young woman from the village and Christo, the handsome and charismatic young builder.

But the dark clouds of war are gathering and the island will become a crucible of violence and bloodshed in the days to come. For Heavenly, her friends and family, it will be the greatest test they have ever known.

Digging at the Crossroads of Time by Christos Morris

While exhuming human remains within a collapsed Minoan temple, a respected archaeologist senses a need to look beyond the bones and shards of his discovery. When he digs deeper into the mysteries of the mountain, there are unexpected consequences for himself and the small Greek fishing village below. When death descends, supersititious villagers cry out to bury the discovery and “let the dead rest”. The secrets from 1628BC slowly emerge within two alternating and parallel stories 4000 years apart. The lives from an ancient and modern world converge in a tale of conflict between tradition and reason, science and mystical longing while digging at the crossroads of time.

Known unto God by Bob Bibby

In 1940 in war-ravaged Birmingham, Meredith Wilson, driving an ARP ambulance, comes to rescue survivors of a bombed war munitions factory. There she meets two brothers, Bert and Bill Ennis, in Reserved Occupations running the factory, and falls in love.
In May 1941, Bill Ennis, now a RAF radar officer, witnesses the German paratroop landing at the Battle of Crete. With a small group of compatriots and led by a young Cretan boy, Nikos Themistocles, he escapes across the White Mountains to the south coast of Crete. In protecting Nikos, Bill dies before he can escape. In July 1941, shortly after receiving news of his death, Meredith and Bert Ennis are married and four months later son Tom is born.

In 2006, twenty years after Bert’s death, Meredith Ennis, now ninety, comes to Crete with Bill’s lately-discovered diary to find the site of his death. Guided by the adult Nikos Themistocles, she visits scenes from the battle and Bill’s flight but her journey has an unexpected conclusion. Her son Tom, sent for from England, discovers a terrible family secret and has to learn to deal with its consequences.

Ten Great Books set in CRETEThe Island by Victoria Hislop

On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia giver her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more. Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former Leper Colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters, and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secredy holds them all in a powerful grip…

The Silver Stain by Paul Johnston

Set against a glorious Greek background, the spellbinding new Alex Mavros mystery – Hired by a Hollywood film company to trace a missing employee in Crete, private investigator Alex Mavros is plunged into a vortex of hatred. The company is shooting a movie about the invasion of Crete by the Germans in 1941 – and their activities are stirring up old resentments among the islanders. The bitterness of the past bursts into the present when one of the film’s consultants is found dead, hanged by the neck. Suicide – or murder? Mavros investigates and is drawn into an ever-widening conspiracy.

Being Shirley by Michelle Vernal

Shirley Valentine was Roz’s favourite film. It was about a repressed, middle-aged housewife from Liverpool who spends her days talking to her kitchen wall. When she leaves her husband for an impromptu holiday to the Greek Islands with a friend she rediscovers her lust for life and decides to stay.
Annie Rivers isn’t middle aged, she’s thirty-one. She doesn’t hail from England she lives in New Zealand and she doesn’t talk to the kitchen wall – just her cat.
Her late sister Roz had a passion for anything and everything to do with Greece including Shirley Valentine and the new age musician Yanni. Just for the record though Annie never shared in her sister’s love of Yanni’s white trousers unlike their mutual best friend, Carl. The print that once hung on Roz’s bedroom wall of Santorini now hangs on Annie’s and she’s picked up the pen pal relationship with Kassia Bikakis where Roz left off.
Kassia along with the rest of the Bikakis family help run her mother-in-law’s namesake Eleni’s guesthouse on the Greek Island of Crete. These days Annie and Kas prefer e-mail to snail mail and in their exchanges Annie confides how much she hates her new boss and how much she loves the wedding dress she’s spotted in the window of an exclusive boutique. If only her fiancé Tony would actually commit to setting the date and if only she could get the dress to fit.
Annie knows she’s drifting along and that something’s gotta give but will she be brave like Shirley and grab life by the seat of a pair of white trousers or will she be like Roz and let it pass her by?

As Mia untangles the passions and betrayals of the past, everything she thought she knew is turned upside down. Can she heal the wounds of the past, and face the truth of her own heart?

The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale by Rebecca Stonehill

A compelling page turner of a buried past resurfacing, set against a backdrop of the 1960’s youth culture and war torn Crete. 1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father. Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

Daughters of the Labyrinth by Ruth Padel

This was my home. This harbour and sea. These golden alleys. But the town I grew up in has disappeared.

Ri is a successful international artist who has worked in London all her life. When her English husband dies she turns to her Greek roots on Crete, island of mass tourism and ancient myth, only to discover they are not what she thought. As Brexit looms in the UK, and Greece grapples with austerity and the refugee crisis, she finds under the surface of her home not only proud memories of resisting foreign occupation but a secret, darker history. As an artist, she has lived by seeing and observing. Now she discovers how much she has not seen, and finds within herself the ghost of someone she never even heard of. Unearthing her parents’ stories transforms Ri’s relationships to her family and country, her identity and her art.

Lyrical, unsettling and evocative, Daughters of the Labyrinth explores the power of buried memory and the grip of the past on the present, and questions how well we can ever know our own family.


What an amazing selection of books there is in Crete! If you have any to add to the list, please do so in the Comments below…

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