Regardless of time period, London is always an appealing setting for a book. From streets booming with life to the quieter parks where mischievous squirrels thread, London has a plethora of places that are perfect for complementing a gripping story. After having visited the city a good few years ago, I became even keener on reading books taking place there. If you’re looking for books set in England’s capital, there are five that I enjoyed to varying degrees and that I definitely recommend, despite them not being necessarily favourites.
It’s a warm day in June and Clarissa Dalloway is getting ready to host a party. Via a stream-of-consciousness style and a third-person narration, readers are presented not only with her contemplations, but also those of her husband, her daughter, Peter Walsh and Septimus Warren Smith, as well as their interactions. In Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf also painted an alluring picture of London and its inhabitants, creating an authentic sense of time and portraying the socio-economic conditions of the population.
Saturday by Ian McEwan
London is almost a constant presence in Saturday by Ian McEwan, thanks to the many mentions of its streets. A demonstration against the Iraq war in February 2003 makes Henry Perowne, the main character, muse on personal satisfaction, the meaning of his life and the protest itself.
Set in 1850, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal has as main character Iris, who wants to become a painter. Although her aspiration is frowned upon by both society and her family, she is resolute in making her dream come true. Her life changes in various ways as she meets Silas and Louis. The ambiances created throughout are immersive and London is visually portrayed.
The prose of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is full of details that help bring London to life. Set in the 18th century, it is a novel that focuses on a believable group of characters. Jonah Hancock, a 45-year-old merchant, lost his ship, because his captain exchanged it for what he believed to be a mermaid. To recover the money that his vessel was worth, Hancock accepts to exhibit the strange creature. One of the places that it is shown in is at Mrs Chappell’s nunnery, where he meets Angelica, a beautiful courtesan.
A coming-of-age novel that explores the sexual awakening of a young woman, The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter shows many influences of Victorian novels and Ancient Greek myths. When Melanie lost her parents, she and her two siblings had to move in with their mother’s brother, uncle Philip, a toymaker who is an old-fashioned brute. This was also when they moved to London, a city they struggled to get to explore.
Do you like reading books set in London? What are your recommendations? Tell me in the comments!