Coming to live and study in London is an exciting prospect. With a rich history, diverse culture and international music scene it’s easy to find inspiration on most street corners of the city. Get into the spirit of London by reading some books inspired by the city. Read the books listed below, visit the sights and get ready to be inspired.
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
Maybe you’ve seen the 60s musical Oliver! based on the book but, to really get a feeling of Victorian London you should read this classic book. This story follows the life of orphan Oliver Twist, born in a workhouse for the poor, his apprenticeship with an undertaker and his experiences of living with a gang of young pickpockets.
This book is a realistic and gripping look at the side of Victorian London that did exist but, not often written about, and certainly not as well as Dickens did in Oliver Twist.
The very best way to see Dickens’ London is with the Dickens London tour. The tour will take you to some things mentioned in Oliver Twist, lasting around 1 hour and 45 minutes. It costs £10 per person and is a must for any new fans of Dickens or those interested in Victorian London.
The Line of Beauty, Allan Hollinghurst
This book is a 2004 Man Booker Prize-winning novel about class, politics and sexuality in Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s Britain. The story follows Nick Guest, a young middle-class man from Northamptonshire who is about to begin postgraduate studies in London. Nick takes an attic room in Notting Hill, home of a Conservative MP in the family’s home.
If you’ve got any interest in politics, recent British history and British culture in general then this book is one for you. Notting Hill, where the MP’s home is set, is a busy part of London with some great shops worth visiting. If you like antique, art and book shops then a walk around Notting Hill and Portobello Road are well worth it. Stop in at a pub for a delicious Sunday roast dinner and imagine Nick Guest doing the very same thing as you.
Another must-see featured heavily in the book is Hampstead Heath. This grassy area of woodland park is a popular place for picnics during the summer and a refreshing winter walk. From the Heath’s Parliament Hill, you can see breath-taking views of London’s skyline.
Peter and Wendy, J.M. Barrie
This much-loved children’s book is partly set in London. Peter Pan is the original ‘boy who never grew up’. The tale follows Peter Pan, around the mythical island of Neverland as he leads his gang of Lost Boys, often fighting with pirate Captain Hook.
Peter is friends with Wendy Darling, along with her brothers John and Michael. The Darling family home is in Bloomsbury, London, according to Barrie’s description. There is no specific home that can be pinpointed as the Darling household but you can go and see the house in Kensington where the author J.M. Barrie lived. The author’s home is said to be a possible inspiration for the Darling house and is located at 100 Bayswater Road.
The London Peter Pan sights to see don’t end there. Kensington Gardens is just a short walk from Barrie’s house and here you can see a famous statue of Peter Pan himself. This large bronze sculpture stands at about 14 feet (4.3 meters) high and was made by Sir George Frampton. Come and take a selfie with the boy who never grew up.
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
This 2000 Whitbread Book Award winning book is a great fictional story heavily inspired by real events. The story follows the later lives of two friends, a Bangladeshi Samad and the Englishman, Archie, and their respective families in London. What’s really important about this book is how it looks at Britain’s relationship with people from former colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Topics like immigration, racism, assimilation and family are all covered in this fascinating book which has become a great narrative of Britain’s recent past.
Smith namedrops several places in London that you can talk a walk around. There’s Harlesden Clock which can be seen on Harlesden High Street, Kilburn High Road, Hampstead School (said to have inspired White Teeth’s Glenard Oak), to name a few.
If you want more London based books to read, take a look at those listed here.