Ten great books set in London

21st December 2017

Ten great books set in London

For the third of our ‘Ten great books set in…..’ series, we have chosen London. England’s capital city, and one of the most dynamic and exciting cities anywhere in the world, London is the ideal place for a few days’ sightseeing, theatre and museum trips, browsing markets….and perhaps even a little retail therapy! What could possibly be better at the end of a busy day than to curl up with a book that is firmly set in this great city?  It might even help you plan the next day’s itinerary. The ten books below – novels, travelogues and memoirs – are all highly rated on the TripFiction database.

Ten great books set in London1.    Literary London by Eloise Millar & Sam Jordison

A fascinating guide to the best literary landmarks in London that takes the reader into publishing houses and along paths of inspiration, revealing the stories behind the stories.

One of the world’s greatest literary cities, London has streets full of stories and buildings steeped in history.

The biggest and most beloved names in English literature have all been here, and you can still see or visit their stomping grounds and favourite places.

Follow Oscar Wilde from the literary salons to Clapham Junction; roam with Julian McClaren Ross through Fitzrovia, dropping in for a pint or three with Dylan Thomas at the Bricklayers’ Arms; muse darkly over the Thames with Spencer, Eliot and Conrad; and watch aghast as Lord Byron terrorizes his publisher on Albemarle Street…

Moving through time and genre, from Spencer and Shakespeare to Amis and Barnes, from tragedy and romance to chick-lit and science fiction, Literary London is a snappy and informative guide, showing just why – as another famous local writer put it – he who is tired of London is tired of life.

2.    An Alphabet of London by Christopher Brown

London is the only city in the world where you could ever find Gilbert and George sharing space with the Gherkin and the Globe while the Great Fire burns and a gin drinker glugs her favorite tipple, and where members of the Bloomsbury Group hail a black cab while barrage balloons hover over Broadcasting House during the Blitz.

In A London Alphabet, Christopher Brown presents a series of wonderfully whimsical linocuts illustrating every aspect of London past and present, including personalities, buildings, monuments, legends, historic events, and other metropolitan icons. From Dickens, Dr Johnson, Tower Bridge, and the Shard to the Diamond Jubilee, Wimbledon, pigeons, and jellied eels, all London life is here.

A born-and-bred Londoner, Brown recounts his own memories of growing up in the capital, and also describes how he creates his distinctive prints.

3.     Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

Yvonne Carmichael has worked hard to achieve the life she always wanted: a high-flying career in genetics, a beautiful home, a good relationship with her husband and their two grown-up children.

Then one day she meets a stranger at the Houses of Parliament and, on impulse, begins a passionate affair with him – a decision that will put everything she values at risk.

At first she believes she can keep the relationship separate from the rest of her life, but she can’t control what happens next. All of her careful plans spiral into greater deceit and, eventually, a life-changing act of violence.

4.    Capital by John Lanchester

They all live or work on the same street in London; some of them know one another, others don’t, but almost all of them will end up crossing paths. Roger Yount is a banker from the City who expects an annual bonus large enough to pay for his second home; he already has two cars and he would also like to have two wives. And he’d like the second one to be less extravagant than the official one, who doesn’t lift a finger. Before getting what he dreams of, he is left without a job, laden with debt and under the care of his youngest son, because his (still) only wife leaves him temporarily.

Ahmed is a Pakistani who has a shop and two brothers, one is a layabout fundamentalist, and the other is hardworking and democratic. When their mother arrives from Pakistan, she is ready to criticise everyone except her insanely religious son

There is also Petunia, an old lady who doesn’t realise that £500,000 is hidden in her house. And Zbigniew, the Polish construction worker, and Smitty, a scandalous artist whose real name nobody knows, only that he is Petunia’s grandson.

In the meantime, the economic crisis looms over London and the whole world…

5.    A Brief Affair by Margaret Leroy

The cups and saucers on the dresser begin to rattle faintly, as though a tremulous hand is holding them. The water in the washing-up bowl shivers all over its surface. There’s a distant droning, something at first more felt than heard, like the far-off thunder of some massive waterfall. Rapidly coming closer . . .’

September 1940. England is a war once again and London has become an ever-fragile place for widowed Livia Ripley and her two young daughters, Polly and Eliza. When Livia meets charismatic publisher Hugo Ballantyne, she is hopeful that her life is about to change for the better. But as clouds gather in the clear autumn sky, the wail of the siren heralds the arrival of the Luftwaffe.

As the raids intensify, Livia volunteers to be a warden at the invitation of enigmatic Justin Connelly. Here she experiences the true reality and despair of war, a contrast to the world of comfort and cocktails provided in fleeting afternoons at the Balfour Hotel with Hugo. And ultimately, Livia discovers a strength she never knew she had that will give her the power to save those she loves. For when you don’t know what tomorrow may bring, there is no choice but to live for today.

Reminiscent of classic films like Brief Encounter and The End of the Affair, this is a stunningly captured story of a woman finding herself whilst the world is at war.

6.     Londoners by Craig Taylor

Here are the voices of contemporary London – rich and poor, native and immigrant, women and men (and a Sarah who used to be a George) – witnessed by Craig Taylor, an acclaimed Canadian journalist, playwright and writer, who has lived in the city for ten years, exploring its hidden corners and listening to its residents.

From the woman who is the voice of the London Underground to the man who plants the trees along Oxford Street: from a Muslim currency trader to a Guardsman at Buckingham Palace: from the marriage registrar at Westminster Town Hall to the director of the biggest Bethnal Green funeral parlour – together, these voices and many more, paint a vivid, epic and wholly fresh portrait of 21st century London.

7.     Mother London by Michael Moorcock

A large, though never sprawling, novel Mother London follows three mental-hospital outpatients – Mary Gasalee, David Mummery and Josef Kiss – and their friends, in an episodic, non-linear history of the capital from the Blitz to present day. Most noteworthy is the astounding humanity of the novel.

Throughout the book the voice of ordinary Londoners forces its way into the narratives through snippets of conversations “overheard” by the three main characters who each have, to a greater or lesser extent, the gift of telepathy. This hint of magic is underplayed throughout so that the work never succumbs to the straitjacket of magical realism itself: the conceit is used very successfully to take our characters out of themselves, and to allow London, and the voices that constitute her being, into the novel as a character herself.

8.     The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler

It’s a fresh start for the Met’s oddest investigation team, the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Their first case involves two teenagers who see a dead man rising from his grave in a London park. And if that’s not alarming enough, one of them is killed in a hit and run accident. Stranger still, in the moments between when he was last seen alive and found dead on the pavement, someone has changed his shirt…

Much to his frustration, Arthur Bryant is not allowed to investigate. Instead, he has been tasked with finding out how someone could have stolen the ravens from the Tower of London. All seven birds have vanished from one of the most secure fortresses in the city. And, as the legend has it, when the ravens leave, the nation falls…

Soon it seems death is all around and Bryant and May must confront a group of latter-day bodysnatchers, explore an eerie funeral parlour and unearth the gruesome legend of Bleeding Heart Yard. More graves are desecrated, further deaths occur, and the symbol of the Bleeding Heart seems to turn up everywhere – it’s even discovered hidden in the PCU’s offices. And when Bryant is blindfolded and taken to the headquarters of a secret society, he realises that this case is more complex than even he had imagined, and that everyone is hiding something. The Grim Reaper walks abroad and seems to be stalking him, playing on his fears of premature burial.

Rich in strange characters and steeped in London’s true history, this is Bryant & May’s most peculiar and disturbing case of all.

9.    Bone China by Roma Tearne

An epic novel of love, loss and a family uprooted, set in the contrasting landscapes of war-torn Sri Lanka and immigrant London.

Grace de Silva, wife of the shiftless but charming Aloysius, has five children and a crumbling marriage. Her eldest son, Jacob, wants desperately to go to England. Thornton, the most beautiful of all the children and his mother’s favourite, dreams of becoming a poet. Alicia wants to be a concert pianist. Only Frieda has no ambition, other than to remain close to her family. But civil unrest is stirring in Sri Lanka and Christopher, the youngest and the rebel of the family, is soon caught up in the tragedy that follows.

As the decade unfolds against a backdrop of increasing ethnic violence, Grace watches helplessly as the life she knows begins to crumble. Slowly, this once happy family is torn apart as four of her children each make the decision to leave their home.

In London, the de Silvas are all, in their different ways, desperately homesick. Caught in a cultural clash between East and West, life is not as they expected. Only Thornton’s daughter, Meeka, moves confidently into a world that is full of possibilities. But nothing is as easy as it seems and she must overcome heartbreak, a terrible mistake and single parenthood before she is finally able to see the extraordinary effects of history on her family’s migration.

10.    London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning

Twelve hours, two boys, one girl . . . and a whole lot of hairspray.

Seventeen-year-old Sunny’s always been a little bit of a pushover. But when she’s sent a picture of her boyfriend kissing another girl, she knows she’s got to act. What follows is a mad, twelve-hour dash around London – starting at 8 pm in Crystal Palace (so far away from civilisation, you can’t even get the Tube there), then sweeping through Camden, Shoreditch, Soho, Kensington, Notting Hill . . . and ending up at 8 am in Alexandra Palace.

Along the way Sunny meets a whole host of characters she never dreamed she’d have anything in common with – least of all the devilishly handsome (and somewhat vain) French ‘twins’ (they’re really cousins) Jean Luc and Vic. But as this love-letter to London shows, a city is only a sum of its parts, and really it’s the people living there who make up its life and soul. And, as Sunny discovers, everyone – from friends, apparent-enemies, famous bands and even rickshaw drivers – is willing to help a girl on a mission to get her romantic retribution.

A fast-paced, darkly funny love letter to London, telling of boys with big hair and the joys of staying up all night.

Which titles would you add to the list? Remember there are more than 500 to choose from in the London listings on TripFiction…! Each will transport you to some excellent fiction, travelogues or memoirs set in the city. Or you may have your own favourites you would like to include. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.

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Comments

  1. User: Bookertalk

    Posted on: 11/01/2018 at 6:48 pm

    To add to your list:
    Hawksmoor by Roger Ackroyd (read the book, then visit the churches mentioned)

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