Reading lists

Book your holiday: Brighton

From wartime fiction to satire, history to essays on modern life, here are some books that'll transport you to "the queen of watering places".

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

Virginia Woolf once called Brighton a “love corner for slugs”. Keith Waterhouse said it had the “air of a town that is perpetually helping the police with their inquiries.” The explorer Richard Burton said the only good thing about Brighton is “the bad morals of its visitors.” Then there was Noel Coward, who quipped: “Ah, dear Brighton—piers, queers and racketeers.”

But what did they know? Brighton may have once been a smugglers haven, a den of vice and crime, a mecca for beer-soaked stag-dos. But it is also a place of beauty – miles of pebbled beach, promenades and one of the most spectacular piers in all of England. It's got two universities, one of the most beautiful royal palaces in the country (now a museum), held England's first gay marriage and has the biggest festival of arts in the UK outside of Edinburgh. It is also the only place in the the country with a sitting Green MP.

It's a wonder, then, that there aren't more books written about Brighton. But that's not to say there are none. So here, from Graham Greene (obviously) to Nick Cave and Julie Burchill, here are five books that capture the city's unique atmosphere; the fun, the vice and the beauty of what the Poet Horace Smith called "The Queen of Watering Places".

The Death of Bunny Munroe by Nick Cave (2009)

Like Burchill, Nick Cave is Brighton royalty. The legendary artist, screenwriter, director, author and rock star lived in the seafront town since moving to the UK in the 1980s (though he left for Los Angeles in 2017 after his son tragically fell from a cliff in the area). And it was in Brighton that he set his second novel, The Death of Bunny Munroe.

Bunny Munroe is an anti-hero Martin Amis would be proud of – a misogynistic, sex-obsessed, drug-fuelled creep who cruises the town in his yellow Fiat Punto selling beauty products door-to-door to lonely housewives in his search for the “Valhalla of all vaginas” (he usually sleeps with his marks).

His exploits make for a series of hilarious, sometimes wince-inducing, set pieces that veil what is essentially a profoundly tragic novel that ends, as you'd expect given the title, with a gruesome final reckoning. But before that, we get to ride shotgun in his Punto through the streets of Brighton, past its piers, ice-cream joints, stretching promenades and cigarette-butt eating seagulls, in a guided tour no open-top bus would ever give you.

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