Deia Cala may be one of the most literary spots on earth in which to spend a long hot summer afternoon. So, when you’ve found a comfortable spot in among the boulders, how do you find an appropriate beach read?
Here’s a couple of books I think fit the bill.
The Rocks by Peter Nichols
Peter Nichols spent much of his childhood in Mallorca. The setting of The Rocks is, I would guess, a thinly disguised Cala Ratjada. Villa Los Roques, centre of much of the action, is very like the real-life Sea Club.
The story runs backwards in time from 2005 to 1948 until the mystery of why Lulu and Gerald, two elderly expats, loathe each other so much is revealed. It’s also driven by the question of whether Luc, Lulu’s son, and Aegina, Gerald’s daughter, will get together.
Obviously, because Nichols knows Mallorca the descriptions of the physical beauty of the island are thoroughly believable. It feels like they’re being remembered from afar, which makes them also richly sensual. Sex, when it happens, seems to be a device to startle the reader out of the pleasure of drifting along with the story. It feels as if sexuality stands in for the sense that there’s always something primal hidden behind those green wooden blinds closed to long hot summer Mallorca afternoons.
Nicholls is a writer keen to display his sophistication but determined to write a page-turner. The only real gripe I have is that the demands of the structure he’s chosen mean that he introduces interesting characters who disappear once the action moves on and backwards in time.
The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
Sex, graphically described, also adds grit to Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove, set in a Deia which isn’t disguised, although for some reason Sa Fonda’s given a different name.
(There was a time when literary types who visited Deia had an unspoken agreement not to identify the village. It was, as travel writers like to say, a “best kept secret”. Authors like Edna O’Brien, Jakov Lind and Luke Rhinehart gave Deia an assumed name.)
The Lemon Grove plays out over a summer week in a villa in Deia in which a family (a father, wife and step-daughter) almost disintegrates when bolshie Emma, the step-daughter, arrives with her new boyfriend, Nathan. The book ends with the family heading towards a probable disaster caused by lust and lies.
When The Lemon Grove was published in 2014, Guardian reviewer Stephanie Morritt honed in on Walsh’s observation about Deia that “under the glare of the sun, none of it seems real”.
Anyone who has spent time in Deia knows how true this is. There’s something about the place that tempts many of us to cast off inhibitions, take risks, play with notions of who we are and sometimes, literally and figuratively, go over the edge. For me, this sense of having been given permission is at the heart of the book. It’s where all the tension and conflict stems from.
The Lemon Grove ends on a nicely prefigured cliffhanger so it’s tempting to wonder whether Walsh will return to Deia in her fiction. I, for one, would very much like to know what central character Jenn did next.
I think The Rocks is available at all good UK airports and, of course, you can order both from the mighty Amazon.