Reading lists

Murder and malaise: the most doomed holidays in literature

If you're disappointed not to be going away this summer, console yourself with these disastrous trips from fiction. They'll make a fortnight on the sofa all the more enticing.

Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

If you're desperate to get away this summer with no escape in sight, this is the reading list for you: five of the most disastrous, unlucky or unfortunate holidays that literature has bequeathed us.

From murder to plague to extremely scary tinned food, the take-home message is clear: trips away are not always what they've cracked up to be.

Call It A Canary by Peter Tinniswood (1985)

The rain! The soggy chips! The hatched-faced landlady who is stingy with the toast! Every grim cliché of a truly appalling English seaside resort holiday is brought hideously to life in the final (and funniest) of the Brandon novels by the late Peter Tinniswood, focusing on the life of a dour Northern family in the late 1960s.

Here, our hero Carter Brandon (drinking heavily after his wife Pat leaves him for ‘a gentleman friend who works in the gas showrooms and has excellent prospects’), his father, their lugubrious Uncle Mort and their friend Sid Jones head to Scarborough for a bit of rest and recuperation. Promising beginnings for the outing ("I like the seaside me… because it’s the last place on the face of this earth where a man can buy himself a decent styptic pencil") falter when Mort is propositioned by the landlady with an offer to eat rice pudding "off her bare belly". That, plus consistent hangovers and an excess of chips, vodka and bacon hasten an early return home. ‘‘'Had a bloody awful time did you?' asks Mrs. Brandon. 'Diabolical,' replies Uncle Mort."

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