Wednesday, August 01, 2012

What's your favorite fiction set at the beach?

I'll mark the arrival of August's dog days with the opening of Marco Vichi's Death in August, set in Florence, 1963:
"Inspector Bordelli entered his office at eight o’clock in the morning after an almost sleepless night, spent tossing and turning between sweat-soaked sheets. These were the first days of August, hot and muggy, without a breath of wind. And the nights were even more humid and unhealthy. But at least the city was deserted, the cars few and far between, the silence almost total. The beaches, on the other hand, were noisy and full of peeling bodies. Every umbrella had its transistor radio, every child a little bucket."
That got me thinking of my favorite fictional renderings of beachside holidays. Two come to mind: West Coast Blues, Jacques Tardi's graphic-novel adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette's novel Three to Kill (Le petit bleu de la côte ouest in the original French), and the greatest of them all, Jacques Tati's movie comedy Mr. Hulot's Holiday.

What are you favorite fictional depictions of life at the beach?
***
 The novel's translator from Italian into English is Stephen Sartarelli, known best to crime fiction readers for translating Andrea Camilleri's novels about Salvo Montalbano. So I confess to smiling when I read the following exchange in Vichi's book. Those who love Salvo's sidekick and nemesis, Catarella, will know why:
"‘You sent for me, Inspector?’ 

"The intonation was typically Sardinian: bouncy, proud, almost aggressive.
"‘Are you Piras?’

"‘In person.’" (Highlighting mine)
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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35 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

The beach scene at the beginning of Tender is the Night is pretty wonderful. Of course, it's the South of France--why wouldn't it be?

I have just got to rent Mr. Hulot's holiday at some point.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, you should rent it. And don't let anyone tell you it's a silent movie. It has no dialogue, but it's decidedly not silent.

August 01, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Poisonally in poison is definitely a favorite line.

I'd have to say my favorite crime fiction set at the beach: any book where the curmudgeonly aging police detective sits on his beach in Vigata, sipping white wine.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

L'estranger and Police Acadamy 5: Assignment Miamai Beach.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'd forgotten than no fictional detective lives closer to the beach than Salvo does.

Like the Montalbano books, by the way, this one includes notes by Sartarelli.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, do you think you could work up a goofily lighthearted script for "Police Academy 1962: Assignment Algiers"?

August 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Inherent Vice takes place at the beach doesn't it? I quite enjoyed that book, the last third was off the rails but thats what you expect from Pynchon.

August 01, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

It's a long time since I read it, but I remember enjoying Gregory McDonald's Fletch, which if I recall correctly made considerable use of Santa Monica beaches.

There are also some good beach scenes in The Talented Mr Ripley. I only discovered recently that Highsmith's fictional Mongibello is based on the non-fictional Positano. Feck, I was in that place, and it never occured to me that that's where Highsmith was writing about. Perhaps, I was too much caught up in the action to pay too much attention to the descriptions.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I have to read "Fletch" one day, for its narrator's attitude to the industry in which we both work.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I know I once posted that I was about to read "Inherent Vice," but I never did read it...I rarely read much on vacations. I know it has an L.A. vibe, so the smell of coconut oil wafting off the pages would be no shock.

August 01, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Solo, I have to read "Fletch" one day, for its narrator's attitude to the industry in which we both work

I enjoy Fletch because the writer doesn't make any attempt to make his central character lovable. That's a good thing in my book.

Your comment made me wonder if there are any good crime novels that focus on fishing or angling. There probably are. Have you ever seen the 30s comedy Libeled Lady with William Powell? There's a really good fishing scene in that. One of those scenes worth the price of admission.

It's a river scene, though, and not a beach one.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Ross McDonald must have one that I'm not thinking of.Of course, there would be oil derricks just off shore.

I was coming back on a very convoluted sequence of public transporation conveyances a couple of weekends ago, and ended up in a very sterile BART/train station, waiting for the Caltrain South. Under a bench, set neatly against its leg, a book lay on the concrete. No one else was making a move for either the seat or the book so I sat down and picked it up. It was an almost new copy of Crying of Lot 49. I snagged it, and it will probably end up being the Pynchon I first read.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, odd you should mention Fletch's lack of lovableness. The one bit with which I'm familiar has his boss upbraiding him for having written a newspaper obituary about "a life distinguished by absolutely nothing." I can't imagine a more lovable act than that.

No crime novels I can think of focus on fishing or angling, but I can't believe that such novels don't exist, especially in the U.S., where fishing down by the creek is such a part of national mythology and fishing is such a part of the nation's psyche and its economic past -- Moby Dick, and all that.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, did Ross McDonald set novels in California, like Raymond Chandler, of whom he was such a follower, at least at the beginning of his career?

Didn't John D. MadDonald's Travis McGee live on a boat? That might have been good or a beach story or two. And Kem Nunn and Don Winslow have written crime novels set in the world of surfing. Beach city!

August 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Ross MacDonald his fictional Santa Teresa after Santa Barbara, a move Sue Grafton copied in homage later.

If you like classic British mysteries by Cyril Hare, which I do, Death is No Sportsman is a good fishing mystery. But it's on a river, not a beach.

August 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I know Cyril Hare only by the esteem in which he is held. And thanks for heads-up on the fish story.

August 02, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Always something novel and curious from you, Peter. Let us not forget Greene's Brighton Rock, which may take us to Peter James' Roy Grace novels set in Brighton (albeit a Brighton known only to Peter James), and Peter Guttridge's Brighton trilogy. Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun (Poirot) and A Caribbean Holiday (Miss Marple). Patrick Hamilton's The West Pier. Cathi Unsworth's Weirdo, set on the Norfolk coast (and only for those who don't mind an occult element in their crime fiction). Charlie Chan in Honolulu. And Simenon's Maigret and the Old Lady, set on the coast of Normandy.

August 02, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

It just occurred to me that this is certainly not the time to forget Reginald Hill. A Cure for All Diseases finds Dalziel, recently blown up, convalescing in the seaside resort of Sandytown (but think 'Sanditon').

I seem to recall that the staggeringly overlooked Australian crime writer Marshall Browne's Italian detective Inspector Anders finds trouble as he too convalesces in a coastal resort. Why Browne is in general so rarely referred to is beyond me, for among novelists who set their books in Italy, I rate him far above Nabb, somewhat above Dibdin, and at least on a par with Leon, though his Anders novels are very different in nature.

August 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of Dibdin, doesn't Aurleio Zen also begin one book convalescing at a beach?

August 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I haven't read Peter James, but I have warded off a seagull that tried to filch one of my chips on the beach in Brighton. I imagine even worse events happen in Peter James' Brighton.

August 02, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

...doesn't Aurelio Zen also begin one book convalescing at a beach?

Yes, And Then you Die. There is a minor plot thread about a T-shirt with the saying "Life's a Beach" on it and the puzzlement it produces in Italians with a knowledge of English.

All of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels are set in California. None are set exclusively in a "beach town" (Santa Barbara/Teresa is, and was, too wealthy to be a true beach town) but many of them contain passages set in coastal areas and/or along beaches. Like Chandler, he was good as scene-setting and writes very evocatively of SoCal beaches in the 1950s-70s. One beach house (shack) in particular, can't remember the novel, had every exterior and interior detail spot on that I recall from my childhood when, for a time, we lived right on the beach.

But I seem to recall the most vivid (well, maybe I mean lurid) descriptions of beaches in Macdonald's fiction is in the pre-Archer The Three Roads, 1948, more a psychological thriller than a mystery in which the psychosexual references come fast and cliched, including the waves pounding on the shore, the seal as woman, etc.

I haven't read any of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels, but many of his other novels are set in coastal and/or beach-y Florida and include very fine descriptions of such phenomena as an approaching storm viewed from the beach. Also like Chandler, he was very sensitive to the social and environmental problems associated with post-WWII urban sprawl and out-of-control development, in MacDonald's case in the formerly sleepy beach resort towns of Eastern Florida.

August 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And that, in turn, invites us to consider how residents of beach towns might view their surroundings differently from the way holidaymakers do.

One might also add Stewart M. Kaminsky's Lew Fonesca novels to the beach list.

August 02, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Elizabeth, I was hoping you would pop in and do Ross MacDonald more justice than I could.

August 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll have to read Ross MacDonald again, if I can get over my mental block against his amateur Freudianizing.

August 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, Sanditon...I'm proud to say I loved Jane Austen well before the recent waves of popular enthusiasm for her work. I remember vividly my first encounter with one of her books. I can't say the same for many authors.

August 03, 2012  
Blogger Howard Sherman said...

I've never delved into Italian fiction and this book sounds like the right place to dive in.

My last beach read was a James Patterson novel back in May. Was it my first choice in beach reads? Yes. That's because it was the next book on my TBR pile!

August 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You have much good reading ahead if you haven't discovered Italian crime fiction. Much of it involves food, wine, and other topics suitable for summer. I'd recommend starting with Andrea Camilleri.

August 03, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

If you could suggest one title by Ross MacDonald which is the quintessential book by him, what would it be?

Also, the same question about Jane Austen's. I've never been a fan of hers but I'm willing to try again.

August 04, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've only read one novel and one story by Ross MacDonald, so I'll leave that question to others. For Jane Austen, you won't go wrong with Pride and Prejudice, Emma, or Sense and Sensibility -- and none of them with zombies.

August 05, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

The McGee stories rarely have much to do with the beach, despite Travis living on a houseboat in Ft. Lauderdale. Plenty of MacDonald's non-McGee books take place in beach towns, though, including "Dead Low Tide" and "Where Is Janice Gantry", one of my favorites.

August 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The ocean plays an important role, I see. The book might also belong on a list of crime novels that deal with sports, it appears.

August 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Come to think of it, a former colleague who was also a surfer liked the Travis McGee books.

August 05, 2012  
Blogger Tim Symonds said...

No beaches in my latest sherlock but how about strange places, viz Serbia in 1905?

Based on a real event in Albert Einstein's life.

- for all who enjoy the classic Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

First review: http://inserbia.info/news/2014/01/sherlock-holmes-and-the-mystery-of-einsteins-daughter-review/


Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughter by Tim Symonds

In late 1903 Einstein's daughter 'Lieserl' disappears without trace in Serbia aged around 21 months. As Holmes exclaims in the Mystery of Einstein's Daughter, "the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, Einstein's friends, followers, relatives and relatives-by-marriage to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is – why?"

‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’ Scientist Frederic Golden Time Magazine



Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughter is available at www.mxpublishing.co.uk/engine/shop/product/9781780925721 or www.amazon.co.uk/Sherlock-Holmes-Mystery-Einsteins-Daughter/dp/1780925727. Review copies contact Steve Emecz at mxpublishing@btinternet.com.


Tim Symonds was born in London. He grew up in Somerset, Dorset and Guernsey. After several years working in the Kenya Highlands and along the Zambezi River he emigrated to the United States. He studied in Germany at Göttingen and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Political Science. Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Einstein’s Daughter was written in a converted oast house in 'Conan Doyle country', near Rudyard Kipling’s old home Bateman’s in East Sussex and in the forests and hidden valleys of the Sussex High Weald.
The author’s other detective novels include Sherlock Holmes and The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle and Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Bulgarian Codex.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

February 19, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Must be the source for Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach. Thanks.

February 19, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should rephrase that:

Yet there is a connection between Einstein and the beach ...

February 19, 2014  

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