If you’re holidaying on the Isle of Wight this year (which I’d highly recommend), you might like a few book recommendations to get you fully immersed in Wight spirit. Here are ten novels, set on the Isle of Wight, starting with my own, Summer of ’76:
Summer of ’76 by Isabel Ashdown
It’s the start of one of the hottest summers on record with soaring temperatures and weeks without rain; the summer of Abba, T-Rex, Bowie and Roussos; of Martinis, cheesecake and chicken chasseur; of the Montreal Olympics and the Notting Hill riots – the summer Big Ben stopped dead. For 18-year-old Luke Wolff life is looking good, until temperatures rise, and with windows and doors constantly open, long-buried secrets bubble over. Soon the community is gripped by scandal, and everything Luke thought he knew about family and trust is turned on its head.
Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift
Former dairy farmer Jack Luxton has created a whole new kind of life with his wife Ellie, as comfortable owners of a seaside caravan park on the Isle of Wight, a far cry from his childhood home in Devon. On an autumn day in 2006, he receives the news that his estranged younger brother Tom has been killed in Iraq. Now, Jack must make a crucial journey to receive his brother’s remains and return to his homeland, a place of unfinished business and the most painful of memories.
Tennyson’s Gift by Lynne Truss
It’s July 1864, in Freshwater on the West side of the Isle of Wight. What happens when the poet Tennyson, the mathematician Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron are thrown into the company of an American phrenologist Lorenzo Fowler and the painter G. F Watts? The place buzzes with creativity and ego, in a wonderfully comic tale of farce and literary delight. A must-read if you’re planning a visit to the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibitions at Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater Bay.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
When Bill Masen wakes up blindfolded in hospital there is a bitter irony in his situation. Carefully removing his bandages, he realizes that he is the only person who can see: everyone else, doctors and patients alike, have been blinded by a meteor shower. Now, with civilization in chaos, the triffids – huge, venomous, large-rooted plants able to ‘walk’, feeding on human flesh – can have their day. Locations include Sussex, Wiltshire, London and the Isle of Wight, where a successful colony has been established.
The Bed I Made by Lucy Whitehouse
When Kate meets a dark, enigmatic man in a Soho bar, she doesn’t hesitate long before going home with him. There is something undeniably attractive about Richard – and irresistibly dangerous, too. Now, after eighteen exhilarating but fraught months, Kate knows she has to finish their relationship and hopes that will be the end of it. Fleeing London for the wintry Isle of Wight, she is determined to ignore the flood of calls and emails from an increasingly insistent Richard. But what began as a nuisance becomes an ever more threatening game of cat and mouse.
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. Barnes’ novel calls into question the idea of replicas, truth vs fiction, reality vs art, nationhood, myth-making, and self-exploration.
Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown
Portsmouth, 1984. Thirteen-year-old Jake’s world is unravelling as his father and older brother leave home, and his mother, Mary, plunges into alcoholic freefall. When his parents reconcile, life finally seems to be looking up. Their first family holiday, announced over scampi and chips in the Royal Oak, promises to be the icing on the cake – until long-unspoken family secrets begin to surface. Locations include 1950s Brighton, 1980s Portsmouth, the Dordogne, and the Isle of Wight where Jake holidays with his cousins in the West of the island.
*New in 2017*
Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown
(currently at the Kindle pre-order price of £1.99)
After sixteen years apart sisters Jessica and Emily are reunited. With the past now behind them, the warmth they once shared quickly returns and before long Jess has moved into Emily’s comfortable island home. Life couldn’t be better. But when baby Daisy disappears while in Jess’s care, the perfect life Emily has so carefully built starts to fall apart. Was Emily right to trust her sister after everything that happened before?
The following island-set books are ones I haven’t read, but list additionally for your interest. All these books can be found in Waterstones on the Isle of Wight, as well as in various online stores. Happy reading!
The Trespasser by D H Lawrence
No Escape by N J Cooper
Found Wanting by Robert Goddard