Monday, January 25, 2010

Reader Question: Recommendations for books set in London

I love reading, and I love travelling to far-off places. Ergo I love reading about far-off places, especially places where I've been. (I live in Salt Lake City.) I love reading stories set in England, and I'm wondering if you have any recommendations for favorite books by current (or, more current than the Brontes and Austen) British authors. They don't have to be books *about* any specific place, just wondering if there are any books that come to mind that *feel* like England to you? (Edited for space reasons)

I was born in London and moved straight back here after I graduated. I know the city extremely well, so I'm going to make my reply about books based in London. So, off the top of my head:

One of my favourite books is the Pulitzer winning Foreign Affairsby Alison Lurie. It follows a hesitant American academic who blossoms as she explores London on a study trip. She also happens to fall in love.

I have a vast collection of crime fiction, much of which uses London almost as a character in its own right. In particular, I'm thinking of Ruth Rendell's The Keys to the Street, which is set in and around Regents Park, and PD James' poet detective Adam Dalgliesh who lives on the river in Rotherhithe. In Original Sinhe investigates a murder in a publishing house on the banks of the Thames, and in The Murder Room the crime takes place in a museum on Hampstead Heath.

My absolute favourite piece of period crime fiction is Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smokeset in a pea-souper fog in 1930's London. It is chilling, evocative and wonderful.

The make-up of the population of London changed dramatically through the 20th century to the present day. Two books that look at the fabulously diverse nature of our city are Brick Lane by Monica Ali, and White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

I don't think you can understand London without reading about the Second World War which changed the city in such a physical and emotional manner. RF Delderfield's cracking good reads, following the fortunes of the Carver family and their neighbours, are a good start. The Dreaming Suburb is set between 1919-1940 and looks at the extension of London out into the suburbs. Its sequel The Avenue Goes to War looks at the years 1940-1948.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters is also set during the Second World War.

I'm sure my erudite readers have many more suggestions: do leave them in the comments box below, as I know we'd all like some additions to our reading lists.