Noir Beach Vacations in Literature
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my favorite novels, it’s that a trip to the beach usually ends with existential crisis. Every summer I like to recall my favorite eerie summer beach reads: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night made an endless vacation to the glamorous beaches of the south of France seem like a nightmare. Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich makes the Costa Brava seem like The Shining. J.D. Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is a beautiful, succinct beach tragedy. And of course, Albert Camus’ The Stranger taught us that a hot day on the beach can suddenly reveal the meaninglessness of existence.
Given this little collection I’ve been building, I was thrilled to find another unexpected beach noir recently: Javier Marías’ A Heart So White, a beach story (at least at the beginning) that proves (to me, beyond a doubt) that the people closest to us are the ones we are able to see the least clearly, and that the past will always haunt the present. In addition to being the latest addition to the beach noir list I’ve been building, Heart So White is also my new favorite novel, displacing Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives (which features an epic beach duel).
Beach noir is widespread in literature and in life. Because vacations are always a little horrific: time expands and contracts, the usual daily routines are abandoned, and you are forced (along with the loved ones you thought you knew) to, by any means necessary, enjoy yourself. Don’t discover beach horror the hard way like Camus’ Meursault. Pick up one of these great beach reads and prepare yourself. Happy summer!
Doel, Belgium, a ghost town near Antwerp with a mere two dozen residents, has resisted demolition by the government and managed to remain relevant in a colorful way–by reinventing itself as a street art capital of the world. Both local artists and painters from abroad have traveled in droves to the tiny town, to make their mark on the crumbling walls of its many derelict buildings. Take a look at some image stills or this video depicting Doel’s unique murals.
A number of unpublishedpoems penned by Pablo Neruda were discovered this week among his papers. From what I understand, these poems are not rough drafts or false starts hidden away by someone conscious of his legacy but rather complete poems that somehow didn't make it to the Nobel laureate’s publisher until now. Are they as good as Seix Barral claims they are? We’ll find out when we can read them at the end of the year. Maybe this is just more scraping the bottom of the barrel, as has been done with the works of the late DFW and Bolaño. (Remember that Chile literally dug up Neruda’s body last year.) Maybe these poems will just be for fans--but then again, who isn’t one?