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Entertainment and insight: Mallorca summer holiday reading recommendationsJuly 12, 2019

I’m not the kind of person who reads guidebooks. My holiday modus operandi is to waft around and let my Compass of Cool guide me to the must-be, must-see places the guidebooks hopefully ignore. But I do read novels and nonfiction that reference wherever it is I am. When that place is Mallorca, there’s an extra element of fun. I know the island well enough to harrumph when I spot what I’m sure is inaccuracy, but I always want to know more. So, here are a couple of Mallorca summer holiday reading recommendations that I hope will entertain you and offer insight.

Mallorca summer holiday reading

Emma Straub’s The Vacationers is set in and around Puigpunyent in the west of the island, about 15 minutes’ drive from Palma. The Post family from Manhattan, whose story this is – the supporting characters gracefully vanish as the novel progresses – can’t pronounce Puigpunyent so the place becomes ‘Pigpen’. During the 14 days they spend together, Franny and Jim and their children, 28-year-old Bobby and Sylvia, 18, are forced to face the reality of who they are as people and as a family.

A motley crew of folks in a beautiful place

I won’t go into the twists and turns of the plot, which uses the conventions of the family on a foreign holiday, ‘that was the summer I learned etc etc’ novel but with real wit and bite. The Vacationers is smartly written and never less than energetic. But, forgive me, I’m more interested in the use Straub makes of her Mallorca setting.

Straub spent two weeks in Mallorca herself, in the off-season. This perhaps why the island as she describes it is far less crowded than it would be in the height of our summer. Talking to Interview magazine, she said ‘I chose Mallorca because it was an island, and also because it had a rich artistic and literary history. It seemed like just the place the Posts would go.’

The Posts visit La Casa de Robert Graves just outside Deià. Franny’s artist friend Charles spends time at the Miró Museum with his husband Lawrence. If you’ve never visited these, I urge you to go. It’s the perfect way to spend a cool couple of hours on a hot summer afternoon.

Emma Straub, photo by Jennifer Bastian

Mostly, there’s a verisimilitude to the Mallorca locations. I thought at one point Straub had invented a beach named Bahia del Esperanza, which she raves about. This is, I guess, Bahia de Esperanza at Muro in Alcudia Bay. It is a lovely beach but not somewhere you’d consider schlepping to in the height of summer, especially if you had to drive from Pigpen.

The one episode that didn’t ring at all true to me was when the Post children Bobby and Sylvia go to a nightclub in Magaluf called the Blue Nite. Having experienced Magaluf in the height of summer, I’d say Straub’s depiction is way too tame.

But, leaving aside my nit-picking, it’s clear that Straub adored Mallorca. She writes about the landscape and food, in particular, with real affection. This, coupled with the believability of her characters, gives The Vacationers a pleasing solidity. It’s certainly entertaining Mallorca summer holiday reading.

But we stay, or we return again and again, drawn by whatever it is Mallorca has that makes it utterly unlike anywhere else on earth.

Why are we here?

Straub uses Mallorca as a beautiful setting in which to put her motley crew of folks, to paraphrase something she says in the Interview piece. If, like me, you’re fascinated by why we’re drawn to the island, I think you’ll like my second Mallorca summer holiday reading recommendation.

The Warm South: How the Mediterranean Shaped the British Imagination by Robert Holland looks at the impact of the Mediterranean on British culture from the 18th century to today. Although the focus is on Britain, Holland’s observations can be taken to apply to any of us who come from Europe’s colder end.

Why do we love the Med so much?

Holland’s exploration of how the Mediterranean’s sunshine and warmth came to stand for sensual freedom and ‘an escape from mental and emotional anguish at home’ is illuminating. He’s also good on the gloomy, sinister side of what one early traveller called a ‘Magick Land’.

Those of us who’ve spent any time in Mallorca will know that this combination of sunshine and darkness is all too real. This island basks in brilliant sunshine for 300 days of the year but that can blind us to the fact that life here is actually rather more byzantine than in Northern Europe. It’s a creaking cliché but Gertrude Stein put it perfectly when she said to Robert Graves ‘Majorca is a paradise – if you can stand it’.

But we stay, or we return again and again, drawn by whatever it is Mallorca has that makes it utterly unlike anywhere else on earth.

Say what you like about Kindle but it’s a lifesaver for us holidaying obsessive readers, especially when you discover that for some inexplicable reason Deià doesn’t have a bookshop. The Vacationers and The Warm South can be snapped up at Amazon.

Perfect for vacationers who love Mallorca summer holiday reading

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