English countryside reads

A list of books to make you fan girl over fields and crush on country piles.

For something warmer try our list of Caribbean-inspired books.

Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

Set in Hardy’s “partly real, partly dream country” Wessex, Far From the Madding Crowd bottles the rolling hills, shingle beaches and lush woods of England’s modern-day West Country.

Nineteenth-century novelist Hardy was ahead of his time for making a heroine out of a woman more concerned with trying to support a business than a man. But protagonist Bathsheba Everdene still finds herself working though a trio of romantic entanglements: an attraction to wealthy, obsessive farmer William Boldwood, a swift, devastating affair with reckless soldier Francis Troy, and a longstanding curiosity towards faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak.

Madding’s latest incarnation is in multiplexes now. Carey Mulligan stars as Bathsheba, sparring with suitors Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen. TIP: The film is worth the ticket price for its gorgeous costumery alone. Carey’s savagely cinched gingham frocks and plum leather riding gear look more Spring 15 Dolce & Gabbana than 1800s Dorset.

Diving Belles, Lucy Wood

Cornish folk tales form the backbone for this book of short stories from 29-year-old English writer Lucy Wood. Wood weaves the Cornwall coastline into modern fairy tales of sea shanties, lonely boys, strange beaches and stranger relationships.

The book’s edge comes from the fact that that these mythical goings-on are taking place in everyday settings and to everyday people: a nursing home, a woman in her flat, dealing with an ex. Disturbing and playful, magical and real by turns, this is a book full of trinket-sized tales to bring on a trip to the ocean.

Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee

Cider with Rosie has been a staple on school syllabuses for years. Eschewing a traditional linear structure, each chapter of Cider instead paints different miniatures of Cotswolds country life at the end of the First World War. Innocence is lost and experience gained as Lee’s autobiographical text traces his childhood in the English countryside among the village villains, teachers and seducers.

Lee had an ability to make anything sound romantic – his descriptions of drunken teenage fumbles in the hay are thus: “golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again…”

Slow burning and dreamy, with some darker shades as well, Cider with Rosie’s evocation of a rural world that no longer exists makes it worth picking up long after mandatory reading is over.

The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger is a ghost story based in a crumbling Warwickshire estate, where one Doctor Faraday becomes sucked into the incumbent family’s attempts to keep the house afloat. The lonely doctor has been called to care for a servant who fears the walls and dilapidated floors of the house seem unhappy, somehow. One by one, other inhabitants start to pick up on it too.

An insight into the landed gentry of the 1940s, featuring classically English tropes such as mad Labradors, coiffed matriarchs presiding over collapsing family piles and bubbling class tensions, The Little Stranger was nominated for the Man Booker prize and has been optioned for a film adaptation. Read it before everyone sees it at the cinema.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

Heathcliff and Cathy form one of literatures most famously passionate pairings, and Emily Brontë planted the doomed couple in a landscape as unrelenting and turbulent as their relationship. Your eyes strain at the descriptions of the dank, harsh farmhouses and craggy, rust-tinted Yorkshire Moors; the 1800s North England location is bleak, beautiful and disturbing.

Wuthering Heights has a tendency to divide its readers. You’ll either fall as hard for vengeful Heathcliff and wild, restless Cathy’s love story as they do or think it’s a demented, dysfunctional mess. Either way, it’s a classic tale.

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