The Handbook
The Handbook

There’s a reason London makes such a great backdrop to a story, from it’s iconic buildings both old and new to it’s cockney charm and seedy underworld, it’s melting pot of diversity and culture to it’s high society. You only have to look at Dickens to know London makes the perfect setting for a great novel.

Victorian literature aside, there are plenty more contemporary tales to get stuck into that will make you fall in love with, or at least be fascinated with London, all over again. From Zadie Smith’s iconic work that regularly uses her hometown as a backdrop to Martin Amis’ dystopian take on West London in London Fields, here are 12 reads to add to your nightstand or delve into next time your on the top deck of the No.38.

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

From a hedge fund manager trying to bring off the biggest trade of his career to a professional footballer recently arrived from Poland; a student who has been led astray by Islamist theory to a schoolboy hooked on skunk, Sebastian Faulks looks at the stories of seven Londoners whose lives are worlds apart, apart from one thing, the fact that they all use the Circle Line.

Set against a backdrop of Christmas time in London, it will resonate with anyone who lives in the capital, both in location referencing and human interaction.

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

www.amazon.co.uk

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

This modern classic, that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, made waves when it was first published in 2004 and it continues to be one of the most loved books of Londoners.

It centers around teenager Nazneen, who finds herself in an arranged marriage with a disappointed older man. Away from her Bangladeshi village, home is now a cramped flat in a high-rise block in London’s East End. Nazneen knows no English, and is forced to depend on her husband.

That is until Karim steps into her life. Their affair and his political views force her to take control of her fate, set against a background of racial conflict, love, politics and morality.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

www.amazon.co.uk

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Considered one of the most iconic and respected writers of our time, Zadie Smith is no stranger to writing about her beloved London. Swing time, her fifth novel, looks at the idea of home and what that means, as well as music and identity, race and class, as the novel takes us from West London to West Africa.

The story revolves around two young girls who dream of becoming dancers as it follows them from childhood unto their early twenties. One is talented and one comes with ideas about music, being black, belonging and what it means to be free.

Smith’s writing has always been relevant, bringing up important issues about race and identity, but no more so than now.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

www.amazon.com

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

Sam Selvon’s poignant tale takes us back to 1950s and the heart of the Windrush era. At Waterloo Station, hopeful new arrivals from the West Indies step off the boat train, ready to start afresh in London – both with exciting prospects ahead and fear of what it’s like to arrive in a predominantly white place when you are not.

Both heartbreaking and funny, The Lonely Londoners will remind you of how rich and culturally diverse the capital is thanks to the immigrant community, but is also a wake up call to how tough and unfair it can be.

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

www.amazon.co.uk

Constitutional by Helen Simpson

If you’ve ever taken five on a London bench and ended up doing an hour of people watching, this book is for you.

It follows a teacher on her lunch break as she sits on Hampstead Heath and watches the world go by. Made up of a selection of shorts, she becomes privy to many personal situations, from tantrums to funerals, pregnancy to love affairs.

Belly-laugh witty and full of compassion.

Constitutional by Helen Simpson

www.amazon.co.uk

Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now by Craig Taylor

Anyone who frequents the tube will appreciate the cover of this book that brings together the real life tales of Londoners. Taylor interviewed 80 of the capital’s residents, from the rich to the poor, the native to the immigrant, both women and men and it creates a colourful collection of everyone from a Buckingham Palace guard to a Pakistani currency trader.

An authentic collection of what is means to be a Londoner.

Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now by Craig Taylor

www.amazon.co.uk

Yardie by Victor Headley 

If you’re after something more gritty than London’s romantic Thames views, red buses and chatty black cabbies, give Yardie a go. A bit like London’s answer to The Godfather,  it tracks the underworld of the capital’s drug scene and brutal gang culture.

Originally written by Victor Headley, in 2018, it was turned into a film directed by Idris Elba. Tip: read the book first.

Yardie by Victor Headley

www.amazon.com

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton 

Patrick Hamilton’s 2016 novel has been likened to a modern day Dickens and drops you into 1930s London and the grubby publands of Earls Court.

The twisted tale of George Harvey Bone and his infatuation with Netta, a cool, contemptuous woman, gets dark when he decides he must kill her. Hamilton paints a filmic image of pre-war London, all boozing philosophers and dirty saloon bars – worlds away from the Earls Court we now know.

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

www.amazon.com

Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes

Those with a penchant for a winkle picker, a Paul Weller haircut and Vespas will love this West London-located tale that leads up to the iconic swinging 60s.

Set against a backdrop of the smoky jazz clubs of Soho and hip coffee shops of Notting Hill, the capital’s young are embarking on a new lifestyle of sex, drugs, rock’n’roll – think Mods and Rockers, Teddy gangs and trads, and a changing face of modern London.

Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes

www.amazon.co.uk

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

When a plucky Scot by the name of Douglas Douglas arrives in London from across the border, mayhem ensues, as he begins to reek havoc on the South East suburb with his devilish charm.

Strange things begin to happen as Douglas exerts an uncanny influence on the inhabitants of Peckham Rye and brings lies, tears, blackmail and even murder into the lives of all he meets. A look at ’60s working class London brought to life by the depth of Spark’s characters.

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

www.amazon.com

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Sitting somewhere between The Time Traveller’s Wife and Benjamin Button, the life of Tom Hazard might seem normal but it’s anything but. He actually grew up in Elizabethan London but has a rare condition that slows the rate at which he ages.

It sounds off the wall but it’s brilliantly written and won a legion of praise, from being a Sunday Times Bestseller to winning the 2017 Books Are My Bag Award.

Flipping between different points in history, from Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris, and focusing on mental health and identity, it’s a colourful book that will keep you up late into the night.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

www.amazon.com

London Fields by Martin Amis

Thanks to the title you might expect Martin Amis’ novel to be set against a backdrop of Hackney’s famous park, beloved by London’s hip craft beer set, but it’s actually set on the bohemian streets of West London’s Portobello Road.

Set in 1999 but written in the late 80s, Amis imagines a decaying, degenerate London through a dark, murder story.

At its centre is the mesmeric, doomed Nicola Six, destined to be murdered on her 35th birthday and around her the men that might turn out to be her killer.

A dark, dystopian look at the London we love.

London Fields by Martin Amis

www.amazon.com

The Handbook has teamed up with The Grill at The Dorchester for an exclusive competition. Entrants will have the chance to win a dinner for two at The Grill at The Dorchester when it re-opens! www.dorchestercollection.com