Thomas Mann's Gustav Von Aschenbach journeyed to Venice and there found 'a half-grown lad, a masterpiece from nature's own hand . . a tender young god, emerging from the depths of sea and sky'. Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Byron, John Addington Symonds, A E Housman, Oscar Wilde, E M Forster and many others did much the same. This book is an intriguing and wide-ranging study of homosexuals in the Med, who revelled in the warmer climes and loucher societies, though it occasionally gets stuck down little by-ways of European thought.
THE ORIGINS OF DESIRE: Modern Spanish Stories, Ed Juan Antonio Masoliver, Serpents Tail, pounds 8.99
The strength of this collection derives largely from a striking obsession with the supernatural and an engagement with traditional elements in Spanish culture. Sometimes a ghost functions simply to twist a trailing plot into a tight conclusion, but more often it subtly exposes a character's state of mind. Strange metamorphoses permeate style as well as subject, as in Vila- Matas' 'A House Forever' where the narrator comments without explanation: 'I saw a woman disguised as a snake.' Weird events frequently transcend the particular and express, as in Freixas' 'The Clyptoderm', the 'vast, absolute darkness' underlying life. The result is a healthy handful of short, exquisitely crafted story-come- extended poems. Look out, above all, for the haunting 'Omar, my love' by Fernandez Cubas.
JOURNEY TO ROME by Alberto Moravia, tr. Tim Parks, Abacus, pounds 5.99
Moravia's psycho-sexual thriller is entertaining but hardly convincing. Mario returns to the city of his childhood, discovers disturbing Oedipal memories and purges them in an unconventional way. A wealth of biblical, classical and Shakespearian allusions only renders his actions shallow by comparison. When Mario admits to feeling 'oppressed by such sordid and in the end uninteresting complexity,' the reader, respectfully, concurs.
DEATH IN A STRANGE COUNTRY, Donna Leon, Chapmans, pounds 14.99
This police investigation captivates through description, not narration, expertly evoking Venice in a wealth of sensory detail. The author lives in Venice, and her hero, Commissario Brunetti, fond of his tramezzini, his cappucini and his signorie walks the reader through the streets of a strange and colourful country. Ending with Brunnetti in tears and full of unanswered questions, it is a cut above your traditional whodunnit.
GOOD GIRLS DON'T WEAR TROUSERS by Lara Cardella, tr. Diana di Carcaci, Hamish Hamilton, pounds 13.99
'Only two kinds of people in Sicily wear trousers, men and puttane,' the heroine of this coming-of-age novel set in a harsh peasant society is told by her father. But Annetta gradually learns to combine the strengths of the men around her with the wiles of the women, and win through to a more- or-less happy adulthood. An easy, punchy read that was an immediate bestseller in Italy.
AN ISLAND APART by Sara Wheeler, Abacus, pounds 7.99
What's the largest Greek island? Easy: Crete. Okay, what is the second largest? Er. . . Sara Wheeler's excellent travelogue is a description of Evia, a caterpillar-shaped island that hugs the mainland north of Athens. The author stayed there for five months: just long enough to gather impressions of a land of goats, nuns, unfinished roads, classical echoes and brilliant skies. Like many travel books, this one (rather embarrassingly - this is Greece, after all) laments the influence of 'western culture'; but this is a forgiveable reflex given the enchantments on offer.
THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK, Miles Morland, Fontana, pounds 5.99
If the beaches in the South of France are packed, you could always follow Miles Morland's example and walk 350 miles to Biarritz instead. The author's route skirted the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. He spends a fair amount of time reflecting on his career as an investment banker with First Boston, which not all walkers will wish to do; but his long march with his wife Guislaine sounds both romantic and bloody hard work.
THE COUNCIL OF EGYPT by Leonardo Sciascia, translated by Adrienne Foulkes, Harvill, pounds 8.99
The late Leonardo Sciascia was a Sicilian novelist of great repute, and this novel, first published in 1963, describes the Palermo aristocracy at the time of the French revolution. A corrupt monk invents an ancient authority - 'The Council of Egypt' - and plays a fierce game with history in both Sicily and Naples. Sciascia's prose emerges in English as fierce, dignified and simple, and this makes the book seem less like a historical novel than a fable.
A KITCHEN IN CORFU by James Chatto and W L Martin, Weidenfeld, pounds 5.99
Most people will be heading for Corfu to get away from the kitchen for a while; and only the most robust Corfophile could pretend that anyone went there for the food. But this approachable guide takes its inspiration from a village in the north of the island, where the olives are like tennis balls and you only have to hold a plate in the air for a wild duck to fall on to it. This is rather more than a recipe book: it explores the relations between a climate, a landscape, and a cuisine. Spiro's bread sounds perfect.
WAITING IN THE FUTURE FOR THE PAST TO COME by Sabiha Khemir, Quartet, pounds 13.95
A patently autobiographical and strikingly emotional tale of a clever young woman growing up in a traditional Tunisian village and aching to escape to western freedoms. Many of the episodes - immensely detailed accounts of cooking couscous or a bride's ritual preparation for her wedding, for instance - stand as vignettes rather than parts of a cumulative work. We understand the intensity of the girl's desire for freedom when, as a child, she asks over and over again if she can go to the sea and her mother replies: 'The Sea is locked.'
NOT PART OF THE PACKAGE by Paul Richardson, Macmillan, pounds 14.99
The author arrives in autumn, just as the tourists are leaving. But the Ibiza he's after - though he pays lip-service to the island's long history - is the cheap, anything-goes student paradise. What to do in Ibiza in winter? It's obvious: have cinnamon tea with Mr Hu and get into some serious Chanelling. Of course.Reuse content