5 Books To Read In London

Here's a list of some of my favourite books which I think capture the essence of the UK's capital and are perfect accompaniments for a trip to the big smoke.

1. The Cuckoo’s Calling - Robert Galbraith / JK Rowling

I first read this book whilst on the other side of the world, and it made me totally homesick for the messy, chaotic, pub-lined streets of London.

The first in a series of books following private investigator and war veteran Coroman Strike, The Cuckoo's Calling truly encapsulates the spirit of London, with key scenes set in Soho, Chelsea, Mayfair, Hammersmith and Hyde Park. I could practically smell the beer-stained bars of the Tottenham Pub and The Feathers, whilst Rowling's description of the buzzy Denmark Street (right next to where I worked at the time) was spot-on.

The novel charts the struggling PI's investigation into supermodel Lula Landry's untimely death, brought to his attention by his one and only client, John Bristow, whose brother Charlie was one of Strike's school friends. With the help of temp agency secretary Robin Ellacott - who quickly proves to be an invaluable asset - the pair are tasked with proving that Lula was murdered, despite all evidence pointing to suicide.

2. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding

I don't know many women who haven't had a 'Bridget Jones moment' during their first few years of living in London. In a city where it often feels like everyone else knows what's going on and you haven't been sent the memo, Helen Fielding's illustrious novel snapshots the day-to-day routine of London life and all the anxiety that goes with it, perfectly.

Fans of the novel - which started life as a newspaper column - will know that London is at the heart of the stories, with Bridget living in Notting Hill (how much was she being paid at this publishers?!) and hanging out at trendy bars and spots across the capital.

The sharp-witted book follows the highs and lows of single thirty-something Bridget Jones as she grapples with romance, work and constant dieting. Though a little outdated now (it was originally published in 1996), it's a very funny read and a I defy most women not to identify at least a little with this loveable character.

3. The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad

I read this early 20th century novel as part of my university degree in 2008, and whilst it isn't the easiest read, you do find yourself absorbed in foggy Victorian London and its many iconic landmarks.

Opening in the seedy streets of Soho and travelling across the city's central areas to Greenwich Observatory, this politically-charged novel deals in terrorism, anarchism and espionage. Though written over 100 years ago, it's still a great starting point for some of the historically and architecturally beautiful sites in London.

Set in 1886, the story follows Adolf Verloc, a Soho shop owner who moonlights as a secret agent and is given the mission of bombing Greenwich Observatory in an anarchist terrorist attack. It's depiction of London is of an unruly and chaotic landscape, full of elusive embassies and torrid townhouses. Conrad depicts the landscape and geography of London impeccably, so it's the perfect companion for a historic visit to the big smoke.

4. How To Stop Time

Though I found this book a bit lacklustre story-wise, it did a fantastic job of evoking the history of London and planting it in a relatable, modern setting.

How To Stop Time follows Tom Hazard, a man who appears in his early forties but has actually lived for centuries. Now working as a history teacher in London in the 21st century, the story reflects on his experiences over the years - from living in Elizabethan London to Jazz-age Paris, New York to the South Pacific.

It was scenes set in London that really stood out for me though. As Tom walks the Southbank and looks up at the queues outside the Globe Theatre, he takes the reader back to a time he met and worked with Shakespeare, merging the past with the present. He aptly states that, "History isn't something you need to bring to life. History already is alive" before pointing to a building that was once an asylum, another which had a former life as a slaughterhouse and another in which the suffragette movement used to meet.

5. White Teeth

I think Zadie Smith is a bit like marmite - you either love her books or you hate them. Although I can completely see why they'd divide people, I'm in the love camp, and her debut novel White Teeth is a brilliant accompaniment to a London trip.

Unlike the others in this list, White Teeth explores the more residential, outskirts of London, basing itself primarily in the North West, and celebrates the multi-cultural nature of this melting pot city.

It follows the unlikely friendship and respective families of friends, Englishman Archie Jones and Muslim Bengali Samad Iqbal, who met in the final days of World War II. Exploring post-colonial Britain, the blending of cultures and generational changes, White Teeth really captures an evolving modern London in the 20th Century.

Which books would you recommend for London? Please comment in the section below.

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