A novel approach

For Dianne Dempsey, Lord Howe Island is a perfect backdrop for a week of reading.

Lord Howe Island is down there on the starboard side of the twin-propeller plane. I know this because I can hear the oohs and aahs coming from the other passengers as the glorious peaks and turbulent seas dip in and out of their vision. But I can't look out for more than a few seconds because I am on the last chapter of my book, Joanna Trollope's Daughters-in-Law, and I'm terribly anxious. Will the mother-in-law, poor thing, be forgiven by her sons and their daughters for being so bossy and possessive? (Not that I think she is that bad.)

I've always thought of holidays as a jolly good excuse for reading books. This is particularly true in my case as I'm a book reviewer and a holiday allows me to read what I want, rather than what my editors want.

I choose the books carefully, smacking my chops in anticipation as I put them aside. They must be just so - not too heavy and not too light but, as Goldilocks says, just right.

I look up from the last few pages to observe that the bus has transported us from the Lord Howe Island airport to the Pinetrees Resort Hotel. Renowned for its excellent food and service, there's nothing to do in the evenings after eating fresh wahoo and drinking chilled riesling - except read.

I adore the name-dropping in Antonia Fraser's memoir of her life with Harold Pinter, Must You Go?. Breakfast with Jackie Kennedy, lunch with Steve McQueen, dinner with the Oliviers, that sort of thing. And what about the poor children? No mention of their sensibilities when she breaks with her husband. I can't put it down.

I finish the book that evening while waiting for my husband at the dinner table, where I find it hard to keep a dry eye as Fraser describes Pinter's long illness and death. Eventually I'm sobbing and mopping up the tears with a crisp linen napkin. Distressed guests think that perhaps I have been abandoned until I explain that I'm in fact having a fabulous time.

When I appear the next day with Siri Hustvedt's The Summer without Men, my fellow travellers start to get a little jumpy. "It's OK," I keep saying. "It's not as bad as it looks." Hustvedt is the only woman I know who can write a story about a marriage break-up without bile or mawkishness.

My next book, Linda Grant's We Had It So Good, has, I think, an entirely apposite title considering the paradisal nature of our island.

Cars are restricted on Lord Howe Island and the tourists ride pushbikes. It's called a pushbike, I discover, because whenever I come to a hill I have to get off and push.

This is a little galling because a lot of old people on the island sport stickers that read "adventure before dementia", and they are going much faster than me. But then again, they aren't trying to read at the same time.

Back home I read at the gym on the treadmill so I thought I could maybe prop the book up in the bike's basket and give it a go. But it's hard. You tend to wobble a lot and then fall off.

Of course it's much easier to read your book when you've reach your destination and you can settle in a sand dune and go for it. Or if you're in a boat with a glass bottom - they're quite sedate, you can read in them. Or if you're travelling around the island on a tour. "Look, look," people might say and that can be annoying. Really, you can see a mountain any day of the week but you can't always finish your book.

When I read Hazel Rowley's Franklin and Eleanor, people think this time I'm crying over the Royal Australian Air Force pilots who in 1948 tragically crashed their Catalina into a hillside. But I have my head down crying over Roosevelt's death at Warm Springs and I'm crying for Rowley, too, who died recently.

And then there are the bloody sunsets we have to see each evening toast with champagne while idly chatting with the adventurers before dementerers. I don't think it is that rude to keep reading; I really can't put Rebecca Hunt's Mr Chartwell down. As far as I am concerned, it is the best read on this particular busman's holiday.

Somehow, Hunt has us believe that a big, lugubrious, talking dog, Mr Chartwell, is pestering Winston Churchill, who is about to resign from parliament.

Hunt's writing is dense and clever, which is why she is so convincing and, ultimately, her story so poignant.

So there it is: six books in five days - the perfect holiday. I'd happily recommend Lord Howe Island to everyone.

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