Each month I do a blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag.’
The group choose a theme and then people share, discuss, recommend and review books that fit the theme.
Let’s take a look!
I’d be surprised if people didn’t know but if you want to go really detailed head over to Wikipedia where you will get a comprehensive run down of its history, demographics, geography, economy, culture and so on.
For those who want a very high level overview:
London is the capital city and largest city of the United Kingdom (and one of the most expensive), it’s very busy and it’s very old.
Much like any city it has its lovely parts and its not so lovely parts and much like any old city it has had it’s wonderful moments of history and it’s not so wonderful moments.
If you want high level and unemotional you can stay with the above. I suppose to go really detailed would be to ask, “What is London to me?”
My book blog name is The BookNook UK so it should come as no surprise that I am based in the United Kingdom. Either that or I’m extremely fraudulent!
I am also Home Counties born and bred. For those who don’t know what I mean when referring to ‘Home Counties’ it basically means the counties that surround the city of London.
Even though I don’t live in London I have grown up as its neighbor and have visited so many times over the years (for work and leisure) that sometimes the thrill of the city is lacking.
I’ll come onto that a bit more later.
My dad is Irish and emigrated from Ireland to England to London in the 1970’s while my mum is London born and bred as were both her parents.
My dad’s personal experience involved trying to find a job while places had signs on windows that said, ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish.’ My mum’s personal experience was home and school life and she still ends her sentences with, ‘Do ya know what I mean?’ in her London accent.
My grandparent’s experiences involved the Second World War.
Both were children at the time and so I heard all the stories about granddad being a Blitz child. The air raid sirens and blackout blinds? That was very much his childhood experience. As were bomb shelters and hiding under the dining room table if there was no time to get to one.
Granddad was an evacuee child and remembers travelling with his gas mask box into the country. Sadly he didn’t have a great experience as his family thought they were getting child slave labor and ultimately my great gran brought all her children back home saying that if they were bombed in their beds than at least they’d all die together.
This may seem like a strange thing to say but truly it’s so Londoner it hurts.
If I think of London’s history (past and recent) I think of the Tower of London and it’s many prisoners (some Royal), the Industrial Revolution, the Black Death, the Great Fire of London, Jack the Ripper, the Blitz, the 2005 bombings and the sadly even more recent 2017 London Bridge attacks.
When I say somethings are so ‘Londoner’ it’s because there’s an inimitable sense of London being the scrappy in spirit. Sure, it’s very often a city that has been kicked down but it’s never out. If London were a person receiving a blow to the face they would fall down but only to roll, bite the other person’s ankle and drag them to the ground.
They’d stand up spitting out blood and teeth but dammit, they’d be the one standing up.
Picture if you wish, a scrawny looking street urchin with scabby knees and a bloody lip yelling, “YOU WANT SOME?!”
If I think of London, both historically and now, I think of glitz and grit.
There’s so much that’s wealthy and decadent in the city (Mayfair, darlings, Mayfair). The grit is either those that join the London City workforce (if you are ever visiting the city never travel by tube or train during rush hour) or the areas that don’t see the wealth.
Of course, historically speaking the grit was incredibly more… gritty.
I mentioned earlier that sometimes I find the thrill of the city of lacking.
That’s because if you’ve visited it as often as I have (and when so many of those times have been for work) you forget to be a ‘tourist’ in your own home. By that I mean you forget to look around a place with the eyes of someone seeing all the brilliant bits for the first time.
I strategically focus on commuting at the least busy times or have cursed myself because I’ve chosen the wrong bridge to cross the river and I’m caught behind tourists taking photos of the Houses of Parliament.
“It’s just a building!” I want to say, forgetting all the buildings I’ve photographed on holiday. Well, the eyes of that building have seen more than I have and also, no one’s tried to blow me up.
But there are times, usually when it’s evening and I’ve spent a day in the city with friends and my husband, benefiting from the amazing things London has to offer and I’ll cross one of those bridges, look at the city lights and go, “You’re alright, London, you’re alright.”
And if you learn the Underground – you’ve earned your place.
A f*ck ton. Excuse my Cockney.
Being rife with historical events, distinctive class and wealth systems, multiple cultures and multiple locations with distinctive sights means that London contains it’s own unique personality as a place to set any story.
This doesn’t always mean historical novels as there are plenty of contemporary novels set in London (and some fantasy too) but I feel like London tends to be a popular historical novel setting especially for Victorian novels.
This could be because a lot of novels set in Victorian London were actually written in Victorian London – the city was going through a revolution at the time, lots of fodder for writers. And ya know… writers.
If they are a contemporary written historical novel then as Victorian London had a lot going on socially and economically it lends itself to some juicy themes like poverty, human rights, scientific growth and culture that we can now look back on with a critical eye.
If I quickly play ‘First Book That Comes to Mind’ where I think of the first book for each genre that comes to mind it would be this:-
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (in what is the best use of the Underground ever).
My answers may not match your answers or even the answers below. My husband went with ‘Sherlock Holmes’ as the first London based book he thought of.
This is based off of the ‘Popular London Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 13,884 entries. The top ten are: –
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
- Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
- London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
- Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
- Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- NW by Zadie Smith
- Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Yeah…. what the actual eff is this list?
Neverwhere is a book that I truly adore and listed as the first book that came to my mind as a London based fantasy novel but what the heck are the rest?! Seriously?
I know The Girl on the Train is popular (I have yet to read it) but that’s in the top 10? Who is Ben Aaronovitch?
I’ve never been so disappointed by a list since Santa put me on the naughty one.
Maybe Ben Aaronovitch is a epic writer – people who have read him – is he an epic writer?
I just think with the vast amounts of London based stories this is not what I was expecting. If I go up the list I can see some Charles Dickens plus V.E. Schwab (who I know is popular) and there’s finally some Oscar Wilde, Sarah Waters and even some Nick Hornby.
I don’t know guys.
If I go by the list above then it’s Neverwhere and only Neverwhere. I adore that book and it’s made travelling by tube semi-bearable.
If I think books set in London or books about London then the ones I’ve chosen for my ‘First Book That Comes to Mind’ game above are genuinely the first ones that come to mind.
The quintessential London book for me though has to be Oliver Twist. To me it’s a book that you couldn’t have set anywhere else and keep the story the same.
If I carry on up the ‘Most Popular List’ the others that pique my fancy/ that I enjoy are the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab (not read but would like to), 1984 by George Orwell, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley and The Invisible Library by Genevieve Gogman (again not read but would like to).
Although I don’t love everything that Charles Dickens has written you have to admit… that man went hard for his city!
So there’s my little trip into the city. I’m aware the first section of ‘What is London?’ is more personal than usual but if I presented facts about London only I felt it would be too dry so wanted to share some experiences.
What are your thoughts and feelings about books about or based in London? Do you feel they sum up London accurately? Do you feel they make you want to visit the city?
Let me know what you think about the ‘Most Popular’ list as I’m clearly not convinced!
Read Neverwhere though, that book is the dogs bullocks.