The Best 20 Books Set in London

September 24, 2019

Whether you live in London or are planning to visit someday, these 30 reads will transport you to the magic of the Big Smoke and make sure you never want to leave.

Atonement - Ian McEwan

On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

A story of love and war, class and childhood, and guilt and forgiveness, Atonement is a thoroughly unforgettable novel which will change the way you see the world. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst

In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby-whom Nick had idolized at Oxford-and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions. As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2004, Hollinghurst's stunning prose tells the story of Nick Guest, a young man exploring his homosexuality in Thatcherite Britain. It's not a quick read, nor would you want it to be: you'll savour every beautiful line of the Line of Beauty. Down-to-earth and outrageously funny, Bridget Jones's Diary is famous for its relatable depiction of London Life

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones' Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget's permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

Down-to-earth and outrageously funny, Bridget Jones's Diary is famous for its relatable depiction of London Life. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

One Day - David Nicholls

15th July 1988: Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

Another realistic story against the London setting, this time with a heartbreaking romance at its core. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Confessions of a Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella

Becky Bloomwood has a fabulous flat in London’s trendiest neighborhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season’s must-haves. The only trouble is, she can’t actually afford it—not any of it. Her job writing at Successful Saving magazine not only bores her to tears, it doesn’t pay much at all. And lately Becky’s been chased by dismal letters from the bank—letters with large red sums she can’t bear to read. Finally a story arises that Becky actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyzes a chain of events that will transform her life—and the lives of those around her—forever.

Relatable, funny and light-hearted - there's a reason why Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series is well loved by so many. Perfect if you need a quick pick-me-up read. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

About a Boy - Nick Hornby

Will Freeman: at thirty-six, he's as hip as a teenager. He's single, child-free, goes to the right clubs and knows which trainers to wear. He's also found a great way to score with women: attend single parents' groups full of available (and grateful) mothers, all hoping to meet a Nice Guy. Which is how Will meets Marcus, the oldest twelve-year-old on the planet. Marcus is a bit strange: he listens to Joni Mitchell and Mozart, looks after his mum and has never owned a pair of trainers. But Marcus latches on to Will - and won't let go. Can Will teach Marcus how to grow up cool? And can Marcus help Will just to grow up?

One of the most heart-warming love stories you'll ever read, except between a child and his new father-figure. This one's great if you love being able to hear British accents in the dialogue - full of sarcasm and wit. 

NW - Zadie Smith

Set in northwest London, Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragicomic novel follows four locals—Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. In private houses and public parks, at work and at play, these Londoners inhabit a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end.

If you're looking for a book that captures the diversity of London's frenzied atmosphere, this is the book for you. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman 

Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks. A single act of kindness catapults young businessman Richard Mayhew into this other London.  And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: neverwhere.

Does the idea of a secret alternate reality to one of the most famous cities in the world enchant you? Look no further than Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

The Infernal Devices - Cassandra Clare

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them...

A YA option for an 'alternative London' story, this trilogy packs magical creatures with fast-paced action and one of the most heartbreaking love triangles in literature. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon

The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds...It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

Imaginative, compelling and mysterious, this dystopian novel marked a great debut for Samantha Shannon, whose epic fantasy The Priory of the Orange Tree was an instant bestseller earlier this year.

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch  

In the aftermath of a puzzling murder, PC Peter Grant gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of DCI Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

If fantasy books and detective stories are your thing, this book is the perfect combination for you. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, when ohn Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that...

If you're after a gritty detective story without the fantasy elements, look no further than J.K. Rowling's Cormoran Strke series.

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She's even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. 'Jess and Jason', she calls them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she's only watched from afar. Now they'll see; she's much more than just the girl on the train... 

Unlike the film adaptation, this book is set in London, and it's one of the best thrillers of all time, made all the more striking by the every day tube commute which lands Rachel in this situation.

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of twelve detective stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous literary creation, Sherlock Holmes. Contained within this collection are the following tales: A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-headed League, A Case of Identity, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Five Orange Pips, The Man with the Twisted Lip, and many more. 

No list of books set in London would be complete without the inhabitants of 221b Baker Street. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895, The Picture of Dorian Gray has lost none of its power to fascinate and disturb. 

London's mysterious streets provide a rich backdrop for Wilde's story of Dorian Gray's moral disintegration. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

The story of Oliver Twist - orphaned, and set upon by evil and adversity from his first breath - shocked readers when it was published. After running away from the workhouse and pompous beadle Mr Bumble, Oliver finds himself lured into a den of thieves peopled by vivid and memorable characters - the Artful Dodger, vicious burglar Bill Sikes, his dog Bull's Eye, and prostitute Nancy, all watched over by cunning master-thief Fagin.

Dickens' classic story of the dark criminal underbelly of London is a book everyone must read in their lifetime. A perfect mix of Gothic Romance, the Newgate Novel and popular melodrama. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

In what may be Dickens's best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of "great expectations."

A story of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, Great Expectations is not to be missed. Featuring the infamous Miss Havisham, Dickens crafts some of his most memorable characters against the London setting. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a June day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway—a day that is taken up with running minor errands in preparation for a party and that is punctuated, toward the end, by the suicide of a young man she has never met. In giving an apparently ordinary day such immense resonance and significance—infusing it with the elemental conflict between death and life—Virginia Woolf triumphantly discovers her distinctive style as a novelist.

Any blog post about top books set in London will include Mrs. Dalloway, but there's a good reason for that! Woolf personifies the city, bringing it to life like nobody else.

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

If historical fiction is your thing, Hilary Mantel's monolithic depiction of one of the most important eras in England's history is a must read. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Dissolution - C.J. Sansom

Henry VIII has ordered the dissolution of the monasteries and England is full of informers. At the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control with the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton. Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, and his assistant are sent to investigate.

Similar to Hilary Mantel but written from a perspective outside of the court, C.J. Sansom's writing evokes the filth and poverty of sixteenth century London as the backdrop to his tense plot. 

Buy this book: Amazon | The Book Depository 

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. 

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.