London has inspired many a great author and it ought to inspire many a great reader, too. Here are some books we think you should totally, definitely, 100% read.
1. Londoners by Craig Taylor
This book is a collection of prose from the perspective of 80 different Londoners. Taylor interviewed basically everybody he could; from the woman behind the tube announcements and the staff at TfL lost property, to a black cab driver and a dominatrix. This book truly is the eyes and ears of the city, and it offers a wonderfully unique and honest viewpoint. To quote a Thames River boatman, “If there is just one London, I have two arses.”
2. Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
This book is technically a fantasy novel for young adults, but “young” is a subjective term, and you can read what you damn well like. It is set in a parallel London called Un Lun Dun, where creatures and items that have been discarded by Londoners come to life. The story is full of fun characters, including two girls from London who are led to the mysterious and nonsensical mirrored city by a broken umbrella. It sounds bizarre but that’s exactly why you should love it…
3. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
This book was Orwell’s first full-length work, and it’s a tale of poverty in two cities. Although the first half of the book tells you what it’s like to live below the breadline in Paris, the second half is an account of London from the perspective of a tramp. The narrator describes the constant moving around, the different types of accommodation available and the people that he meets.
4. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
This book follows the story of Nazneen, a woman who moved to London from Bangladesh when she was 18 to marry an older man. The novel describes how she adapts to the city and the community, and it was named after the famous East London street that is at the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community.
5. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
We all know the story of Oliver Twist, but how many of us have actually read the book? In Charles Dickens’s second novel, orphaned Oliver leaves the misery of a murky workhouse and is sold into an apprenticeship with an Undertaker. Eventually he escapes and heads to London where he meets Fagin and The Artful Dodger, and gets up to all sorts of mischief…
6. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Told through a third person narrative, The Night Watch is set in 1940s London, during and post-WWII. It follows the lives of three lesbians, a straight woman and a gay man; documenting their secrets and scandals and how they all interconnect. The war serves as a devastating backdrop, but also as a metaphor for the anguish of love and life. It’s some serious stuff.
7. NW by Zadie Smith
Set in Northwest London (if you hadn’t guessed), NW is a tale of class and socio-economic status. It follows four different characters, all of which grew up on the same estate… but they all turn out to lead very different lives.
8. London Fields by Martin Amis
Largely deemed as his greatest novel, Amis’s London Fields is a unique twist of dark comedy and murder mystery. It’s narrated by an American writer, Samson Young, who is suffering from long-term writer’s block, as well as a terminal disease. Luckily the people he meets are a great source of inspiration for his next novel…
9. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere is another fantasy tale about a nonsensical London underworld. This time it’s following the life of Richard Mayhew, an ordinary bloke who recently moved to London from Scotland and is content with his new life in the city. One night he stops to help a young girl called Door, who appears to be distressed. After this, his life (nor London) is never quite the same…
10. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
In this classic novel, Clarissa Dalloway, a high-class socialite, is getting ready to host a big party at her London home. The entire book is set in just a single day, yet it tackles big themes of mental health, oppression and class.
If you’re a literature lover, London is full of countless places to explore and retrace the imaginary steps of iconic protagonists and the real steps of famous authors (including Dickens and Woolf). And, if you’ve forgotten your book, look out for the London Underground book fairies! They’re constantly leaving books on the tube.