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Towers of Westminster | © Pixabay
Towers of Westminster | © Pixabay

10 Books to Read Before Visiting London

Picture of Georgina Wilson-Powell
Updated: 11 May 2017

London is nothing if not a city for literature. The British capital is the setting of various books, and has appeared in plays, novels and poems for hundreds of years. If you want to know more about the historical buildings, the myths, the fog and drama of London, then stick your nose into some of these great works.

Courtesy of Hamish Hamilton

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

Mixed race London life of the late 20th century has never been captured so alive as in Zadie Smith’s debut novel White Teeth. She takes in suburban north London, family dramas, generational change, and the feeling of trying to hang on to traditions in the face of a modern city that leaves nothing in its wake.



Courtesy of Penguin

London: A Travel Guide Through Time, Matthew Green

For those that want something a little straighter and more historical, London: A Travel Guide Through Time is one of the most interesting books out there. It takes you through London area by area and introduces you to how Londoners have lived from the medieval ages to the post-war era, truly bringing London’s past to life before your eyes.



The Waste Land cover

Courtesy of Faber & Faber

The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

The seminal poem by T.S. Eliot could have been written yesterday. He talks of the daily commute of Londoners, ebbing and flowing across the bridges of the Thames and the frailty and thinness of modern life. It’s not always easy to understand but at least a line or two will stay with you forever.



Courtesy of Picador

The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollingsworth

If you want to get a glimpse of life in 1980s London, when yuppies and Thatcherism was at its zenith, try Alan Hollingsworth’s beautiful tale of a working class man trying to forge a path as a gay man while living with the family of an upper class MP. This is a languid, evocative novel of London’s recent past.



Courtesy of Penguin

Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens

Really, you could have almost any Charles Dickens novel on here. The author and social commentator was concerned with London’s poor and based many of his canonical tales around the ancient law courts of Holborn and the City of London streets. Oliver Twist is set around Clerkenwell and name checks 93 places in London. The famous 1960s musical brought Oliver and London to life even more.



Courtesy of Headline Review

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaimen’s magic realist novel set in London often makes the cut of best London books. Neverwhere is Gaiman’s first novel, a dark fairy tale packed full of characters that will linger on long after the story finishes. Gaiman imagines a magical world underneath London that will have you looking at the city in a whole new way.



Courtesy of Knockabout Comics

From Hell, Alan Moore

From Hell is Alan Moore’s dark graphic novel that conjures up London’s most famous murderer, Jack the Ripper. The prostitute killer of Whitechapel has remained one of the capital’s most vibrant legends and this cult graphic novel adds more twists and turns that the killer’s knife. It was also turned into a film starring Johnny Depp.



Courtesy of Vintage

London Fields, Martin Amis

Martin Amis’ seminal novel London Fields has always divided critics. An inner city love story in a fictional future where things are even more rubbish than they are now, romance is studded with murder as the story moves between East London (then a seedy side of town) and middle class Notting Hill.



Courtesy of Vintage Classics

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s day-in-a-life novel introduces us to Clarissa Dalloway, who weaves through her London neighbourhood shopping for a party that evening while her husband dines with high society and a war veteran passes time in Regent’s Park. Woolf considers the impact of the First World War on London and its inhabitants in one of her most famous books.



Courtesy of Black Swan

Brick Lane, Monica Ali

Monica Ali’s vibrant novel Brick Lane looks at another side of London, away from the gleaming buildings and colonial history. This is the tale of an immigrant girl living in East London in an arranged marriage and the way she adapts to living in the chaotic city. Fate, as always, decides to make her life much more interesting that she ever imagined.