A great beach book should have some combination of money, lust, murder and travel. How to tell which books fit the bill? There’s no Muse Book Club seal (yet), so for now, here’s my list.
‘Bonfire of the Vanities’
“Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe. Think back to a simpler time, when the idea that a mediocre man in his mid-30s could make $15 million a year on Wall Street was still fresh. Add in yet more greed, vanity, sociopathology and you’ve got the best book Wolfe’s ever written.
‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith. If you want to read about beautiful people in beautiful places doing a mixture of horrible things to themselves and others, this is your book. Then watch the hypnotically beautiful 1960 movie with Alain Delon (released as “Purple Noon”), which is so much better than the plodding version with Matt Damon.
‘The Patrick Melrose Novels’
“The Patrick Melrose Novels” by Edward St. Aubyn. What happens when a smart kid of immense privilege is ravaged by a sadist father and a drug addled mother? Find out in this (very dark) series of comedic novels.
‘The Glimpses of the Moon’
“The Glimpses of the Moon” by Edith Wharton. For a less glamorous approach at high society, here’s a book that follows a couple with loads of connections but little money. A not so charming look at the sacrifice necessary to maintain a foothold in the beau monde of the day.
“American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis. Yes, the protagonist is a psychopath. But his suits are gorgeous.
‘A Way of Life, Like Any Other’
“A Way of Life, Like Any Other” by Darcy O’Brien. The 1950s account of life as the child of Hollywood movie stars. A kid raised by narcissists with too much money: what could go wrong?
‘The Orient Express’
“The Orient Express” by Gregor von Rezzori. If you consider new money to be anything made after 1880 and the phrase “contemporary culture” to be an oxymoron, perhaps this book’s your best bet. It does a nice job of applying withering cynicism to the present day and the world that came before it in equal measure.
‘Tender is the Night’
“Tender is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yes, extraordinary wealth can be a burden, but what about being the spouse of the person with that wealth? Fitzgerald’s last completed novel with a memorably sad ending.
‘The Two Mrs. Grenvilles’
“The Two Mrs. Grenvilles” by Dominick Dunne. A thinly fictionalized account of the shooting of Billy Woodward, Jr., heir to the Hanover National Bank fortune, by his wife Ann, who killed herself when she learned of Truman Capote’s upcoming, equally thinly fictionalized account of the murder in Esquire magazine.
“Well, that’s that,” Ann’s mother-in-law is reported to have said. “She shot my son, and Truman just murdered her, and so now I suppose we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“A Rebours” by Joris-Karl Huysmans. It keeps things streamlined with a single character who shuts himself in a villa and spends the entire novel doing fantastical things with his money. A cult book for the global aesthete.
(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News and for Loot, a blog on Bloomberg.com. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.