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Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

If you're down about staying home this summer, 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.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)

Funny tummy? Sunstroke? The maladies of a holiday are numerous but being murdered is one of the less common; unless you happen to be away with Tom Ripley. In Highsmith’s tale of obsession and greed, Tom travels to Mongibello, south of Naples, to track down bon vivant Dickie Greenleaf and, at the behest of his father, persuade him to return to New York and get a proper job.

The resulting infatuation leads to (spoiler alert) a deadly day trip out onto the ocean and a resultant miasma of deception. The baking hot spots of the Med have rarely sounded so alluring, despite the presence of this itinerant murderer. Perhaps it’s worth risking invoking Ripley’s obsession if you get to spend a typical endless holiday afternoon with Dickie, described by Highsmith as "a siesta after the late lunch, probably then the sail in Dickie’s boat at sundown. Then aperitif at one of the cafes on the beach… Why should Dickie want to come back to subways and taxis and starched collars and a nine-to-five job?"

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1956)

"When good Americans die, they go to Paris", wrote Oscar Wilde, But for Baldwin’s protagonist David, it’s also where they go to have listless affairs and sink into ennui. ‘’I may be drunk by the morning but that will not do any good… The train will be the same, the people struggling for comfort and even dignity on the straight backed, wooden, third class seats will be the same and I will be the same." As David begins an affair with an Italian bartender called Giovanni, one of the many obstacles to happiness is that of his family who want David to come home, just at a time when any notion of what home could be seems to be slipping away. As his (mostly) absent fiancé Hella says to him "Americans should never come to Europe, it means they can never be happy again. What’s the good of an American who isn’t happy?"

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (1984)

Holiday as punishment is the set-up for this maudlin, yet strangely hopeful novel based around punctilious romance novelist Edith Hope and her enforced stay at a conservative, family-run hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva in the early 1980s.

Sent there by her friends after an "unfortunate lapse", in the form of a doomed affair, Edith embeds herself into the dull, murmuring respectability of solitary hotel life where she is regularly used as a target for endless monologues from other guests.

For a novel that contains two marriage proposals, very little seems to happen in Edith’s holiday. The sense of rootless drift that can overwhelm a solitary break is perfectly encapsulated here with Brookner describing ''the dense cloud that descended for days at time and then vanished without warning to reveal a new land-scape," from Edith’s hotel window, interspaced with slightly listless trips to local remains, castles and markets. It’s the perfect depiction of the kind of holiday that, although lacking outright disaster, can make you wonder, once you get home, if you ever actually went away at all.

The Go Between by LP Hartley (1953)

You’d assume a staycation in the UK would be the least emotionally taxing of possible holiday options. Leo Colston, protagonist of this delicate, tenacious novel, might well disagree. Sent to Brandham Hall in Norfolk in the summer of 1900 to live with the family of his wealthy school friend Marcus, he ends up operating as a postman, carrying clandestine messages between Marcus’ sister Marian and farmer Ted Burgess.

The book is astonishing in description the physical sensations of summer; one can almost feel the first signs of sunburn on skin as we wander with Leo amid a late Victorian heatwave that confirms the longstanding and complete inability of the British to alter their sartorial senses to a temperature above 10 degrees.

"At tea-time someone said to me, ‘You are looking hot. Haven’t you something cooler to wear?’ As Leo’s attempts to take control of his role as water carrier for the forbidden lovers, the insistent sun lends the book a hazy, surreal edge, unforgettably described in passages such as this: ‘In the heat, the commonest objects changed their nature. Walls, trees, the very ground one trod on, instead of being cool were warm to the touch: and the sense of touch is the most transfiguring of all the senses. Many things to eat and drink, which one had enjoyed because they were hot, one now shunned for the same reason…the heat had a smell of its own."

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)

A century before weekend-long stag do's and lad’s mag culture permeated the holiday habits of the young British man, this tale of startling male incompetence, brazen lying and epically poor planning combine to make for a disastrous river boat journey down the Thames for George, William, narrator Jerome and a fox-terrier called Montmorency.

Lyrical descriptions of the landscape from Kingston to Oxford and back again are frequently interrupted by the ineptitude of the men’s skills at everything from pitching a tent to, most memorably, attempting to open a tin of pineapple chunks. "We beat it out flat, we beat it back asquare, we battered it into every form known to geometry - but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape so strange, so weird so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away the mast. Then we all three sat round it on the grass and looked at it."

The only saving grace to the men’s spirits is Jerome’s knack of telling some of the most brilliantly hilarious shaggy-dog stories ever put to the page. Reading his account of how a large wedge of potently stinking cheese ended up being buried on a beach which only then became renowned for its bracing air, without laughing is, almost scientifically, impossible.

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann (1983) 

Pause for a moment if you think not snagging a balcony view room or leaving your sunblock at the hotel constitutes "bad luck". when on holiday. Mann writes of a trip to Venice that handily coincides with a cholera outbreak. La Dominante is sweating in a sickly, diseased heat during this painfully visceral depiction of unrequited lust. Gustave Aschenbach, an ageing writer in the grips of bottomless loneliness and misery, is in town and falls into a state of lascivious lust for a young boy called Tadzio; alhough Aschenbach’s fate seems sealed long before the disease overwhelms both he and Venice.m"For the second time, and now quite definitely, the city proved that in certain weathers it could be directly inimical to his health."

And, on the final pages, a more desolate depiction of one of the world’s most visited cities could hardly be imagined. ‘It was an unfriendly scene. The whole beach, once so full of colour and life, looked now autumnal, out of season, it was mostly deserted and not even very clean.’

Call It A Canary

Credit: MacMillan

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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