kensington

26 Books To Read Before You Move To London

Or after, if you’re already there.

Daniel Dalton / BuzzFeed

There are thousands of books set in London, here are just a select few of them. For books set across different parts of London, I’ve highlighted one place in particular.

1. Constitutional by Helen Simpson

 

In the title story from this collection of shorts, a teacher spends her lunch hour on Hampstead Heath, taking in both the view and the conversations of passers-by.

Recommended for: People watchers.

2. Brick Lane by Monica Ali

Black Swan

 

Monica Ali’s Booker shortlisted debut takes its name and setting from the street at the centre of East London’s Bangladeshi community, as 18-year old Nazneen moves to London from Bangladesh to marry an older man.

Recommended for: The culturally curious.

3. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

BBC Books

 

When young businessman Richard Mayhew saves the life of a girl named Door, he finds himself catapulted into the subterranean world of London Below, a city under the city, filled with fantastical creatures and places at once familiar and yet utterly bizarre.

Recommended for: Daydreamers.

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

 

Experimental in form, the story follows a young Chinese girl sent from her rural home to London to study English. She renames herself “Z”, and meets an English boyfriend – a 44-year-old bisexual vegetarian who lives in Hackney. The language barrier, as it turns out, is the least of their problems.

Recommended for: International students.

5. Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

Penguin

 

Nina Stibbe moved to London in 1982, hired as a nanny to the sons of London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers and her ex-husband, director Stephan Frears. Cue candid encounters with some of London’s literary elite, as neighbours such as Alan Bennett popped round for dinner.

Recommended for: Budding writers, nannies.

6. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

 

A beat novel focusing on poor West Indian migrant workers in 1950s London, as they live and work around Notting Hill and Bayswater.

Recommended for: Beatniks.

7. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

 

Moving backwards from the post-war lives of four characters, and ending in with their wartime exploits in 1941, The Night Watch moves around London and gives both a compelling account of the city in wartime, and of those forced to traverse it in secret, not for war, but for love.

Recommended for: Those who have ever felt the need to hide themselves.

8. Tunnel Vision by Keith Lowe

MTV Books

 

On the eve of his wedding, Andy makes a drunken bet that he can travel through every single Tube station in a single day. Fail the bet and he won’t be able to collect the Eurostar tickets he needs to get to his wedding in Paris.

Recommended for: Train enthusiasts.

9. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Hamish Hamilton

 

Zadie Smith’s startling debut, chronicling the lives of two families in a multi-racial North-West London suburb.

Recommended for: Fans of British social satire.

10. Babycakes by Armistead Maupin

Black Swan

 

Predominantly set in San Francisco as part of Maupin’s Tales of the City series, Babycakes contains a London sojourn featuring depictions of the 1980’s gay scene through the eyes of American Michael Tolliver.

Recommended for: Anglophiles.

11. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Penguin

 

A day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares to host a party in her affluent Westminster home, and contemplates issues of class, society, sexuality, politics and love.

Recommended for: Feminists.

12. Londoners by Craig Taylor

 

Taylor interviewed 80 Londoners to paint an oral portrait of the city as told by those who live and work here – from the tube train announcer to the Buckingham Palace guard.

Recommended for: The incurably curious.

13. The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

 

A Scottish migrant arrives in London and wrecks havoc with the staid existence of Peckham’s working class inhabitants.

Recommended for: Plucky Scots.

14. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

 

Probationary Police Constable Peter Grant is a bit useless at his job, until he discovers a supernatural London hidden amidst the regular one, filled with ghosts, witches, and vampires, and finds himself assigned to the branch of the Met that polices them.

Recommended for: Supernatural fans.

15. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

 

A suburban ghost story set around Highgate Cemetery, as American twins move into a flat bequeathed to them by an aunt they never met.

Recommended for: Literary horror fans.

16. London Fields by Martin Amis

 

A literary murder mystery set in the heart of Hackney, where a teminally ill writer stumbles across both a funeral-crashing young woman, and the plot that will kill her.

Recommended for: Those suffering writer’s block.

17. Damage by Josephine Hart

 

A married MP engages in an affair with his son’s fiancĂ©e in this poetic and brutal study of sexuality and human nature.

Recommended for: Politicians.

18. Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes

Allison & Busby Classics

 

A young photographer traverses the world of West London cool; rock and roll music, Italian motor scooters, coffee bars and sharp clothes – what would come to be known as Mod culture.

Recommended for: Fans of the swinging 60s.

19. Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

 

A Nigerian woman moves to the UK in search of a better life for herself and her children, only to be faced by the grim realities of 1960’s London.

Recommended for: Young parents who think they’ve got it tough.

20. King Rat by China Miéville

Macmillan

 

After the death of his father, Saul Garamond meets the mysterious King Rat, who takes Saul under his wing and pulls him into a centuries old war with the dangerous Piper.

Recommended for: Fans of grown up fairy tales.

21. Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller

 

A teacher begins an affair with a troubled student at a North London comprehensive school, risking her job and her family in the process.

Recommended for: Incorrigible gossips.

22. Saturday by Ian McEwan

Vintage

 

Much like Mrs. Dalloway, Saturday takes place over the course of a single day, as the neurosurgeon narrator prepares for a dinner party, navigating post-9/11 terrorism paranoia and pondering the assumed safety of the middle class life he has built.

Recommended for: Existentialists.

23. City of the Mind by Penelope Lively

 

Divorced architect Matthew Halland sees London past and present all at once, as streets and buildings peel back layers and facades before him, offering up both the history of the city and a fresh perspective on his future.

Recommended for: Architecture buffs.

24. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Random House

 

Regarded as Dickens’ best novel, Bleak House features vivid descriptions of Victorian-era Central London, particularly Chancery Lane and Holborn.

Recommended for: Downton Abbey fans.