5 books about holidays from hell

5-books-200pixWe all love going on holiday, but what happens when things don’t go according to plan? In this selection of five novels — all reviewed on this site — characters find themselves caught up in trips that quickly descend into vacations from hell.

The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s name — click the title to see my full review:

‘A Woman of my Age’ by Nina BawdenA woman of my age (1967)

Middle-aged Elizabeth Jourdelay is feeling bereft after her children leave home. When she goes on holiday to Morocco with her husband Richard, she finds herself trapped with other English travellers — one of whom she suspects her husband may have had an affair with. As the couple, and their new-found “friends”, travel from Fez to the barren uplands beyond the Atlas mountains, the reader soon begins to realise that Elizabeth has made far too many compromises in order that her marriage can work, and now, in a foreign country, the cracks in their relationship can no longer be smoothed over. The tension, some of it tragi-comical, builds and builds until it comes to a devastating head…

Up-above-the-worldUp Above the World’ by Paul Bowles (1966)

When Dr Taylor Slade and his much younger second wife, Day, set off on a holiday to Puerto Rico by cruise ship little do they know how nightmarish their trip will become. It all begins with one act of simple kindness — Day loans a Canadian woman $10, whom they then struggle to shake off. Before long things go from bad to worse when Dr Slade falls ill and Day has to enlist the help of a fellow expat American to help them. Except this man isn’t quite what he seems and has nefarious plans, which transforms the couple’s exotic holiday into a vacation from hell. It’s creepy and unnerving — and you’ll race through it wanting to know what happens next.

Losing-Gemma‘Losing Gemma’ by Katy Gardner (2002)

This a fast-paced psychological thriller about two English 20-something backpackers who journey to India on an “adventure of a lifetime” yet only one comes back alive — a fact that is made quite apparent at the start. The two female travellers, who have known each other since childhood but are polar opposites, are plunged into a strange land where strange things begin to happen to them. This puts untold stress on their friendship, which begins to quickly unravel. An intriguing undercurrent of menace builds to a frightening climax in which only one woman will survive…

Summer House with Swimming Pool‘Summer house with Swimming Pool’ by Herman Koch (2014)

This strange and compelling tale is a dark analysis of modern morals and the consequences of acting on our most wanton desires. It revolves around a doctor and his family who are invited to spend their summer in a holiday house with a famous actor and his friends. They all pass their days in the sun, swimming and drinking. It all seems rather carefree, but there’s an undercurrent of sexual tension between all the adult couples and there’s even a fledgling romance between the actor’s son and the doctor’s teenage daughter. But eventually that tension spills over into something dark and dangerous, the outfall of which has long-lasting repercussions. The message seems to be, choose who you go on holiday with very, very carefully…

Goat-mountain‘Goat Mountain’ by David Vann (2013)

This story covers one family’s annual hunting trip in the wilds of Northern California that goes drastically wrong. It is told through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy, eager to become a “man” by shooting his first buck. But within moments of arriving at their destination — the family’s remote 640-acre property — events take an unexpected and dramatic turn. This is a deeply disturbing and violent book that deals with important subjects, not least at what point should a child take responsibility for his actions. It ruminates on the sanctity of life, the sins of the father, the rules (or ethics) of hunting, human guilt and remorse, crime and punishment. It should appeal to those who like dark suspenseful tales about moral culpability.

Have you read any of these books? Or can you recommend another story that is based on a holiday from hell?

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18 thoughts on “5 books about holidays from hell

  1. Don’t know if the journey in The Sheltering Sky counts as a holiday, but it was pretty hellish….. I read the Bawden a while back and the holiday was awful but I found the book didn’t convince. For *real* journeys from hell you need Martha Gellhorn! 🙂

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    • I need to read The Sheltering Sky because I really do love this Bowles book, which I picked up by chance from the library a year or two ago not quite knowing what to expect from it. Interesting the Bawden didn’t convince you, perhaps it’s a product of its time? And yes, I probably need to read some Martha Gellhorn to experience some real in-your-face hellish encounters!

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  2. I haven’t read any of these, but am interested to see the one by Nina Bawden. I discovered her first as a children’s writer when I did children’s literature at teachers’ college, and would heartily recommend Carrie’s War (a “holiday” of sorts, it’s about kids evacuated during the war), A Handful of Kids, and The Runaway Summer. (No child will bother again with Enid Blyton after reading these!)
    And then in the early 80s I discovered a whole bunch of her books on a remainder table (what sacrilege!) and I bought four of them. I was shocked (in a nice way) that this perceptive author writing brilliant books for kids could also write stunning and sometimes savage novels with feminism as a sub-theme in most of them. Anna Apparent is fantastic, so is George Beneath a Paper Moon, as is Tortoise by Candelight. Family Money, which I read more recently, is essential reading for anyone with a bit of property and relations that don’t seem to be rapacious…
    I see from Wikipedia that she died in 2012 with 55 books to her credit!

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    • I read all those books as a child, Lisa, but can’t really remember them now. I discovered her adult work when I found this book in a second-hand store in 2009. I later read The Birds in the Trees, which I really enjoyed too. I have Anna Apparent and Family Money in my TBR, so I must dig them out at some point. She came back to public attention a little when her husband tragically died in the Potters Bar rail crash in 2002 (?). She was injured in that crash too, and she later wrote a play about the whole experience. I thought she was extraordinarily brave, actually, because she was quite outspoken about the shoddy management/maintenance practices that lead to the crash. Privatisation strikes again!

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      • Oh, I am sorry, I didn’t know those details about her personal life.
        *chuckle* Funny to think that you were reading those books as a child when I was learning to teach literature with them at teachers’ college!

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  3. PS What about Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat? Would you count that as a holiday?
    I’ve reviewed that one on my blog but LOL I’m not game to give you the URL in case Akismet pounces again. (As of last night they still hadn’t fixed it, I can only comment on blogs like yours where my comments have been liberated from the spam folder).

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  4. I haven’t read any of these, and off the top of my head I can’t think of one to add to your list. I’d like to read The Herman Koch book sometime – I loved The Dinner.

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