Out of the many books set in London, I’ve made a hand-picked selection of the ones I love most.
London has been the inspiration for many books over the years, which is no surprise given how culturally rich the city is.
The books about London that I’ve included in my selection are all novels in different genres.
There are tons of non-fiction books about London as well; maybe I’ll write another post about them later on.
Not a book lover? The books listed here have had various adaptations to film, TV, theatre and even radio, so look those up if you’re not into reading books, but still want to enjoy these stories about London.
A Selection of Fiction Books Set in London
These are books to read before you visit London or when you’ve been away from it for too long and miss it… If you live in London, you’ll enjoy them even more.
This was my favourite novel in my teenage years. I’ve read it a couple of times since then and still love it.
It’s the story of Karim, a teenager who’s half Indian and half English. This is how he introduces himself: “My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost”.
This “almost” is what makes his life in London fascinating.
The suburbia in the book title is in South London, and Karim can’t wait to escape it and go explore the big city.
He gets a chance to do that and meets all sorts of characters along the way, who give the author an opportunity to comment on issues of identity, race, class and London’s cultural diversity.
It’s set in the 1970s, but the story is still quite relatable, though the city has obviously changed a lot.
There are some references to London’s 70s pop culture in the story and David Bowie wrote the soundtrack for the BBC TV series based on the book.
The first thing you’ll notice about this book is that it’s very thick. It took me quite a while to finish it, but it was worth it. It is so well written it was hard to put down.
This is the kind of book you want to take with you on a long flight or a long train ride.
It’s an award-winning best-seller that made it to The Guardian’s list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.
Like The Buddha of Suburbia, this book also deals with the multicultural side of London. The author herself is half Jamaican and half English and was born in London.
White Teeth tells the story of three families living in North London.
Each part of the book is set in a different era and is told from the point of view of a different narrator.
The various storylines can get quite complex, with lots of characters and sub-stories.
You’ll find yourself jumping from the past to the present and putting together a puzzle throughout the book, but all the pieces fit together in the end.
I was given a copy of this book years ago by an Australian friend in London and it’s still one of my favourite books.
Brick Lane has been a super trendy part of London for quite a while now, but behind its current hipster facade, it has a history of poverty and immigration.
“Salaam Brick Lane: A Year in the New East End” is an autobiographical novel.
It tells the story of an English foreign correspondent (the author himself), who returns to London to find he can only afford a place to live in East London.
He ends up staying in an attic in Brick Lane. It’s very different to the middle-class London he grew up in.
While living in Brick Lane, he meets the locals, mostly immigrants and asylum seekers, and learns about their struggles.
That may not sound very appealing, but the book is a truly powerful read because of the way he tells their stories: It is so sensitive and moving that it just makes you want to keep on reading.
A famous classic novel set in London in the 1920s, this book is about the life of London’s high society, or more specifically, of one upper class lady, Clarissa Dalloway of Westminster.
This “day in the life” story is told mostly through the thoughts and inner monologues of Mrs Dalloway, as she walks around London and prepares for a party she’s about to host.
You’ll find many references to streets and places in London and what they were like a hundred years ago. The British Library has a very interesting article about how London is portrayed in Woolf’s writing.
This detective story takes place in Bertram’s Hotel in London .
The hotel has some peculiar characters staying in it and an old-fashioned atmosphere that’s almost unreal…
That makes for a nice backdrop for a murder mystery, that Miss Marple solves while on holiday in London.
While Bertram’s Hotel is fictional, it is said to have been inspired by either Brown’s Hotel or Fleming’s Hotel in London.
Set in 1958, it’s the story of a cool and independent teenager (“Blitz Baby”) growing up in London.
The book documents the jazz clubs, coffee bars, fashion and rock and roll of that era, so it essentially describes how the modculture was emerging in London.
It also documents Notting Hill years before it became posh. Racism is a big issue in the book and at the end of the story, the Notting Hill riots of 1958 make the narrator fall out of love with England.
I like how the book shows all of these different sides of London: The hip youth culture vs. the racial tension. It’s also interesting to see how London has changed since that book was written.
If you’ve been to Charing Cross Road, you’d know it has some unique bookshops with second hand and rare books.
Some have disappeared over the years, but it is still one of the things the road is renowned for.
If you pass by 84 Charing Cross Road , you’ll see a small plaque nearby that mentions the bookshop that was once there.
Back in 1949, the owner of that bookshop published an ad about rare books. Helene Hanff, a writer from New York, replied to that ad looking for some books.
That was the beginning of a London-NYC letter exchange that lasted 20 years.
The book is based on the true story of its author. It follows the correspondence between the two and how their friendship developed, though they never met.
This fantasy novel starts when Richard Mayhew, who leads a normal life working in an office, stops to help a bleeding girl on the street.
From that moment on his life takes a bizarre turn.
Neverwhere is set in the magical world of “London Below”, which is quite different to “London Above”.
You’ll find surprising tongue-in-cheek references to places in London in the book, like the angel Islington or the “really nasty neighbourhood” called Night’s Bridge 😉
It’s interesting to note that the novel is based on a BBC TV series by the same name and the book became more popular than the TV version.
What are your favourite books set in London?
There are more great books about London. Which ones do you like best? Recommend them in the comments below 🙂