Which novels should I read before going to London?

Category: Featured, Travel
Piccadilly Circus, London

If you’re wondering which novels you should read before going to London, then try  The End of the Affair, The Buddha of Suburbia, and Effra, A Novel: the first is a heart-breaking classic, the second a 90s icon, and the last is contemporary indie fiction. Together they paint you a picture of the richness, romance and intensity of London – the greatest city on earth.

1. The End of The Affair, by Graham Greene

What’s it about?

It’s World War II and bombs rain nightly upon London, where a writer begins a passionate, intense love affair with the wife of a friend. Told first from his perspective and then hers, it hinges on a deal made with a God that he does not believe in – a God that seems to taunt him as the lovers separate.

Graham Greene was considered one of the greatest 20th century novelists, writing regularly about love, sex and religion. The End of The Affair was turned into a film in 1955 and again in 1999. This later version starred Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes and Stephen Rea, and earned Moore a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards.

Who will enjoy it?

Anyone with a tragic romantic streak will love the story – it’s perfect for anyone who’s had to set aside a love affair where neither party wanted it to end. Read it with a handkerchief handy…

Where in London to read it

The novel is set in the elegant South London suburb of Clapham Common – the Common itself is a large park that separates the homes of the two main characters. On weekends Clapham Common is filled with people lazing on the grass or picnicking in the sun, so take the underground to Clapham Common Station, spread out a rug and enjoy the romance in the same setting as the characters. Another special moment can be had in Victoria Embankment (the nearest underground station is Embankment) where you can sit on the same park bench that sees a confrontation between the two men in the story’s tragic love triangle.

What to do after you read it

Delete Tinder from your phone and go have a pint in one of Clapham’s many pubs – you never know what will happen.

You might also like…

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Effra: A novel, by Greg Roughan

What’s it about?

A young man moves into a new shared apartment near London’s Effra Rd, and life seems to be looking up. A blooming relationship with the vivacious Anne seems to trigger a run of luck – new friends, and a new job. But something sinister seems to have worked its way into his life. A group of local squatters have become obsessed with the river Effra, one of the famed lost rivers of London that were bricked over in the Victorian era, but that still run underneath the city today. The main character falls into their set and gets swept away by dark undercurrents of the city that come to threaten everything he knows…

Who will enjoy it?

Fans of contemporary fiction, and anyone fascinated by London’s secret history – or who’s ever wondered about all the foxes that live there.

Where in London to read it

In the sunshine in South London’s Brockwell Park – or in Brixton’s Peace Gardens.

What to do after you read it

Catch a gig at Brixton’s famed Brixton Academy, then the next day walk across Vauxhall Bridge to the see the outlet of the real Effra river, where it empties in the river Thames right below the M16 spy headquarters.

You might also like…

Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh or London’s Lost Rivers, by Paul Talling and London, the Biography by Peter Ackroyd (both non-fiction)

 

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

What’s it about?

It’s 1970s England and half Pakistani British teenager Karim is desperate to squeeze everything he can out of the dreary existence of suburban London. Filling his life with bands, angst and sexual encounters, he watches his father become an unlikely guru to the posh London set that Karim’s also mixing with. Keep an eye out for the character inspired by the young David Bowie, who also grew up in the same neighbourhoods as the author.

Who will enjoy it?

Anyone fascinated by 70s and 80s Britain, or who loves the way musician MIA dresses…

Where in London to read it

On the way to a gig in Hackney – where the new suburban cool kids do their thing.

What to do after you read it

Watch a Sex Pistols gig on YouTube and experience the pimply reality of London’s disaffected 70s youth.

You might also like

White Teeth by Zadie Smith – a more recent version of the London immigrant experience.

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