Summer holidays are all about relaxation, and how better to kick back than with a good book?
It’s no wonder that there are so many books set in Cornwall – this land of legends, history, coast and countryside has long inspired writers who want to capture its unique environment within their pages. Some, like Rosamunde Pilcher and Daphne du Maurier, are already well known, while others are still being discovered.
If you’re heading to the Polurrian this summer (or even if you’re not), take a look at our list of must-reads for the beach and garden. Plan a reading list for your break, search out an old favourite, or simply sit back with a good book and imagine you’re here already.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
We really couldn’t have a Cornish reading list without including at least one work by Daphne du Maurier. Though originally from London, du Maurier fell in love with Cornwall at an early age, as her family came for regular holidays (including one at Mullion Cove when she was five). By early adulthood, she’d resolved to live permanently in Fowey, and went on to base many of her best-known novels in Cornwall.
All are worth your while, but Frenchman’s Creek – her most romantic – makes the perfect easy-reading addition to a summer suitcase. The story is set in the 1600s and follows the bored and tempestuous Dona St Columb, as she seeks an escape from London society and her loveless marriage. The solution is a remote Cornish estate and a dashing French pirate. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
Described by The Guardian as ‘a whodunnit, horror novel, ghost story and fantastically gripping psychological investigation rolled into one’, The Lamplighters is Emma Stonex’s debut novel, published in 2021. This description promises a lot, but Stonex really does deliver: The Lamplighters is a truly remarkable read.
The narrative is split between 1972, when three lighthouse keepers suddenly go missing (in a locked-room-style mystery) from the storm-wracked Maiden Rock lighthouse, and the 1990s, when a writer approaches their loved-ones, determined to discover what really happened. It’s a brooding, atmospheric read with the kind of rich description that makes you feel you’re really there.
Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
If you loved the Poldark series, this is where it all began. In Ross Poldark, Winston Graham embarks on his saga of 18th century Cornwall, introducing the Poldark, Chynoweth and Warleggan families. Among the cast of characters are Ross, returning from fighting in America, and his cousin Francis, who’s inconveniently become engaged to Ross’ childhood love, Elizabeth.
All the best stories feature a love triangle, but as the tale unfolds, and new faces are added into the mix, things become even more complicated. All this, with the background details of stuffy parlours, powdered periwigs and smugglers’ coves, make Poldark an iconic Cornish read. If you love this, you can also visit some of our local filming spots on a Poldark tour.
Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
The fifth book in Robert Galbraith’s (JK Rowling’s) Strike series, Troubled Blood sees private detective Cormoran Strike return to his childhood home of St Mawes. Naturally for Strike (whose first name, incidentally, is taken from the Cornish legend of Cormoran the giant), he ends up embroiled in a juicy mystery. This time, it’s the cold case of a woman who went missing in 1974.
If you enjoy the book, you won’t have to wait long for the television dramatisation to follow: filming began in St Mawes and Falmouth in March this year.
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Shell Seekers is probably Rosamunde Pilcher’s best-loved novel, selling over five million copies worldwide since its publication in 1987. It’s become a classic for a reason – the story of Penelope Keeling, and her journey from early years to her 60s, is quietly compelling.
We follow Penelope from an unconventional childhood as the daughter of bohemian artists, to an unhappy marriage and illicit love during the Second World War, to her older years with adult children. The novel is set in Cornwall and London, and television adaptations have featured many well-known Cornish locations, including St Ives, St Michael’s Mount and Lamorna Cove.
Summer in February by Jonathan Smith
Taking us into the messy heart of a Lamorna artists’ colony, Summer in February begins in 1949, as Sir Alfred Munnings gives a speech on modern art that inadvertently raises memories of a disastrous love affair of forty years before.
The book is all the more captivating for the fact that it’s based on real events and features real people: the artists Munnings (known as AJ), Laura and Harold Knight, and Florence Carter-Wood, and land agent Gilbert Evans. Their interconnected relationships, and the passions that run high in their tight-knit community, lead to a dramatic final fall-out.
If you liked these, you might also like:
- Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore
- The White Hare by Jane Johnson
- Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
- Adam Loveday by Kate Tremayne
- Under a Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein
- The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware
- A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
- The Swordfish and the Star by Gavin Knight
- Wycliffe (series) by WJ Burley