Be it tropical sun-soaked romance or edgy foreign thriller, each word takes us closer to the feeling of sand between our toes or the excitement of discovering a brand-new city. Here are our top 10 escapist reads.
“This was the hour when he found London most lovable; the working day over, her pub windows were warm and jewel-like, her streets thrummed with life, and the indefatigable permanence of her aged buildings, softened by the street lights, became strangely reassuring.”
This gritty detective novel takes readers to the streets of London – and proves Rowling’s talents for description extend beyond Hogwarts to the real world. Follow private investigator Cormoran Strike through the upmarket streets of Mayfair to the backstreet pubs of the East End and the buzz of Soho. It doesn’t hurt that the case he’s investigating is truly compelling: when a troubled model falls to her death from a balcony, everyone assumes suicide – but her brother has his doubts…
“When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find out that it is the same in all her music.”
This beautiful, evocative memoir describes the years Blixen spent on a 4,000-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. Blixen recalls with a poetic clarity the beauty of Kenya, including stunning descriptions of the Maasai Mara. Her love for the landscape, wildlife and people is captivating, sweeping readers up and away to this incredible part of the world. While the book’s events occurred between 1914 and 1931, the wild beauty Blixen recalls transcends time and is what continues to draw travellers to Africa today.
“The moon was alight, clouds like three giant, interlocked snowflakes behind it, and bright enough for me to stumble down by the stream and onto the stones, to stare at the loch and the wide, starred sky.”
Haunting and atmospheric, Swansong is a modern folktale set in Scotland’s Southern Highlands. Follow Polly Vaughan as she escapes her mistakes in London and heads for the rugged beauty of the lochs and mountains. Part coming-of-age story and part supernatural thriller, Swansong is utterly immersive thanks to Andrew’s descriptions of Scotland’s untamed countryside. This is a book that takes your breath away and stays with you long after you put it down.
“I have inside me the winds, the deserts, the oceans, the stars, and everything created in the universe. We were all made by the same hand, and we have the same soul.”
Rather than simply describing a specific location, Coelho’s novel sums up the discoveries we make about ourselves when we travel. When an Andalusian shepherd boy sets out on the hunt for treasure, his quest from Spain to Egypt becomes more about finding himself along the way. Yes, there are fantastic descriptions of the desert and pyramids, but the overarching theme is one of self-discovery and the importance of the journey. Prepare for literary escapism with plenty of inspirational quotes along the way.
“How wonderful, to walk half drunk with a Lemonsoda on a muggy night like this around the gleaming slate cobblestones of Rome with someone’s arm around me.”
A powerful and intoxicating romance, Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name describes Italy with as much passion as it does the love story at its core. Readers are transported to hot, restless summer nights at a cliffside mansion in the Italian Riviera, where 17-year-old Elio experiences that all-encompassing, all-consuming first love. The prose borders on poetic, taking you to Rome, the Riviera and beyond. We highly recommend watching the movie afterwards.
“It was otherworldly somehow, magical in its vast expanse, an incomparable landscape of soaring glacier-filled white mountains that ran the length of the horizon, knife-tip points pressed high into a cloudless cornflower-blue sky.”
Untamed – and often unforgiving – Alaska sets the scene for a mesmerising portrait of family life in Hannah’s The Great Alone. This stunning novel deftly describes both the beauty and danger of Alaska, from the tightknit community and breathtaking landscapes to the bitter, deadly winter. Hannah’s descriptions are so vivid, you can almost feel the cold and picture the vast blue skies – a true masterpiece in storytelling.
“Travelling is the great true love of my life… I am loyal and constant in my love of travel. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me.”
Follow Gilbert’s journey of self-discovery in this moving memoir, which describes the time she spent travelling through Rome, India and Bali following a painful divorce. From learning Italian to practising spiritual devotion and studying divine transcendence, Gilbert’s novel takes readers on a travelling adventure of healing and change. It’s a love letter to travel and how stepping outside of our comfort zone can open up new ways of thinking about life.
“He pointed to an old man dressed in ragged clothes trudging down a dirt path, a large burlap pack filled with scrub grass tied to his back. ‘That’s the real Afghanistan, Agha sahib. That’s the Afghanistan I know. You? You’ve always been a tourist here, you just didn’t know it.’”
Heartbreakingly beautiful, The Kite Runner is not always an easy read, but it is an essential one. Uncover the history of Afghanistan through the eyes of a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant as they watch their country crumble around them. Sweet memories of a kite-flying festival that once brightened the city of Kabul are juxtaposed by terrifying realities as the Taliban take over. Haunting and deeply human, it’s a window into a world often reduced to news stories in the West.
“Each neighbourhood of the city appeared to be made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks.”
Discover New York City through the eyes of Julius, a young Nigerian doctor trying to make sense of his life as he wanders the streets of Manhattan. Dealing with the pressures of work and the sadness of a recent breakup, Julius takes a journey through past and present, making astute observations along the way. Follow him from the Big Apple to Brussels and Nigeria on an emotional and touching journey that will change your perspective, providing beautiful mental imagery of New York along the way.
“‘Block’ is too simple a description to apply realistically to many street squares in Paris, and this jagged acre was a worthy demonstration of why. It was riddled with alleys and cutoffs and setbacks and turnabouts, curlicues and cross streets.”
Paris exudes a charm that lends itself beautifully to rich storytelling. This poetically crafted book leads readers through the streets of 1990s Paris, using the city as a backdrop for a tale of politics, secrets and hidden love. It’s a gripping and heady story of personal transformation that sets the beauty of Paris in contrast with the dark narrative at its core. Prepare to lose yourself amid the streets and squares of Paris in a smart, emotional book that is far from your typical love story.
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