High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby
A novel of lists, music and loneliness in North London.

It’s dirty, it’s loud, it’s grumpy, it’s historic, it’s constantly being reinvented and it’s a great place to set a novel. London is full of authors and many of them are writing about the city, and it’s been that way for centuries.

Like the city itself, the list of books where the plot threads through London’s crowded streets is immense and rather overpowering. Where does one start when recommending books set in the city? We are assuming you have already read enough Dickensian literature although Oliver Twist is always worth revisiting.  We’re deducing Sherlock Holmes is too obvious for this reading list.

Instead we have tried to fashion a list that reflects the real London although we’re thrown in a few distinctly old fashioned novels.  This list is a baffling mix of violence and crime, immigrants and travellers, trouble-makers and politicians, lovers and the lonely-hearted, forgotten corners and famous places, and dingy bedsits and subterranean tunnels.

These novels are filled with characters that have almost no tolerance for fools (just like anyone who has lived in the city for more than 12 months) and others that have the ability to carry on regardless no matter how bad things become.  Numerous novels are set just before, during or just after World War II when the city took the brunt of Germany’s firepower. Many books look at the London beneath our feet either through life on the Tube or in the sewers and tunnels under the busy streets. Crime is a reoccurring theme but, in reality, most visitors brought up on the Artful Dodger never see anything amiss.

London changes fast. Graham Greene’s London, battered and bruised from the bombs, is quite different from Monica Ali’s London where immigration is the key element as new communities replace the old ones. But perhaps a few things do remain the same – the ambition, the people in falling love and the city’s obsession with sport are enduring.

Isn’t funny how no-one writes about the weather?

I have forgotten how many times I have missed my stop on the Tube because of a good book, or sat in Green Park reading at lunchtime. London gave us Penguin, and Gollancz, and Faber and Faber, and the next great novel set in this city is just around the corner.

Novels Set in London

London Fields by Martin Amis
London Fields
by Martin Amis

Set in 1999, a dark comic novel with a remarkable crook – Keith Talent.
King Rat by China Miéville
King Rat
by China Miéville

Miéville writes new wave ‘Weird Fiction’ – a fantasy in London’s sewers.
How the Dead Live by Will Self
How the Dead Live
by Will Self

Lily Bloom dies and is transported to a new home in Northeast London accompanied by a spirit guide.
The Football Factory by John King
The Football Factory
by John King

A vicious story focused around Chelsea’s most vicious football hooligans.
The Living and the Dead by Patrick White
The Living and the Dead
by Patrick White

Written by an Aussie, a novel where lives are changing as World War II approaches.
The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark
The Ballad of Peckham Rye
by Muriel Spark

A gem from 1960 – a Scot moves to London and causes much trouble.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere
by Neil Gaiman

A subterranean fantasy that goes way beyond London’s Underground stations.
Up the Junction by Nell Dunn
Up the Junction
by Nell Dunn

Forgotten novel from 1963 that details miserable slum life in Battersea.
King Solomon's Carpet by Barbara Vine
King Solomon's Carpet
by Barbara Vine

A Ruth Rendell novel based around the London Tube and the people who use it.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Brick Lane
by Monica Ali

Immigration defines modern London and this novel concerns the Bangladeshi community.
Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes
Absolute Beginners
by Colin MacInnes

Published in 1959, one of the first books to define London’s youth culture.
Soho by Keith Waterhouse
Soho
by Keith Waterhouse

From the man who wrote Billy Liar, a Yorkshire student comes south in search of his girlfriend.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
White Teeth
by Zadie Smith

A comic take on multicultural Britain from 2000, spanning 40 years.
The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
The Ministry of Fear
by Graham Greene

Study in terror in the aftermath of the Blitz. Greene is a must-read for any Londoner.
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton
The Napoleon of Notting Hill
by G. K. Chesterton

Written in 1904, set in 1984 (oddly) – this an alternate reality adventure story.
The Great Stink by Clare Clark
The Great Stink
by Clare Clark

London doesn’t smell so bad now. This novel takes place in its Victorian era sewers.
Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
Hangover Square
by Patrick Hamilton

London pubs can be shady places, particularly when World War II is looming.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
by Xiaolu Guo

Pity the poor Chinese person who has to learn English in baffling London.
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
The Buddha of Suburbia
by Hanif Kureishi

Another entertaining take on London’s youthful immigrant community.
Bleeding London by Geoff Nicholson
Bleeding London
by Geoff Nicholson

A series of stories about Londoners are interwoven in this novel.
Tunnel Vision by Keith Lowe
Tunnel Vision
by Keith Lowe

A man must travel to every Tube station on the map in a single day in a pre-marriage bet.
Fowlers End by Gerald Kersh
Fowlers End
by Gerald Kersh

Published in 1958, violence and humour in a ramshackle London community.
London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins
London Belongs to Me
by Norman Collins

A war is just about to kick off but Londoners are carrying on as usual.
The Apes of God by Wyndham Lewis
Apes of God
by Wyndham Lewis

Written in 1930, a brutal satire on London’s literary and artistic community.
At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie
At Bertram’s Hotel
by Agatha Christie

A hotel (inspired by Brown’s) stuck in the Edwardian era is the setting for this murder mystery.
The Calligrapher by Edward Docx
The Calligrapher
by Edward Docx

A serial seducer runs into trouble but then meets his new neighbour.
Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley
Angel Pavement
by J.B. Priestley

London seen through the eyes of the employees of Twigg & Dersingham.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The End of the Affair
by Graham Greene

Based on his own experiences of philandering, a novelist has an affair with a friend’s wife.
The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
The Heat of the Day
by Elizabeth Bowen

Set in war-time London, Stella discovers her lover is suspected of selling information to the enemy.
Adrift in Soho by Colin Wilson
Adrift in Soho
by Colin Wilson

London’s Beat Generation is described in this 1961 novel of Bohemian life.
A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
A Severed Head
by Iris Murdoch

Set on the cusp of the sexual revolution, this is a satire set in and around London.
Damage by Josephine Hart
Damage
by Josephine Hart

Sex and politics, and a very public fall from grace for a Member of Parliament.
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
The Girls of Slender Means
by Muriel Spark

Novella about a murder written in 1963 and set in Kensington just after VE Day.
The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe
The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor
by Cameron McCabe

1937 crime novel set in London that uses the ‘false document’ thriller technique.
My Name Is Legion by A. N. Wilson
My Name Is Legion
by A. N. Wilson

Set in London this novel looks at the British gutter press and the Church.

What books are missing from this list?


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