London is indeed a one-of-a-kind city; a city that gets under your skin. Maybe this is why it has long been a favoured subject of novelists, lyricists and filmmakers.
We decided to weed out our favourite London-based novels and select a Top 20 list of recommendations. Whether you’re travelling to London soon and hoping to gain a sense of the city; curious about life in London through the ages; or a Londoner who just can’t get enough, there’s bound to be something in here for you – from quick, light reads to intense, epic novels you can literally lose yourself in.
Below is our Top 20 List of novels set in London, in no particular order.
- The End of the Affair –Graham Greene
- City of the Mind – Penelope Lively
- The Repentant Morning – Chris Paling
- Bitter Sweets – Roopa Farooki
- Absolute Beginners – Malcolm MacInnes
- The Time of the Crack – Emma Tennant
- The Ballad of Peckham Rye — Muriel Spark
- London Fields by Martin Amis.
- Past Imperfect – Julian Fellowes
- Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
- White Teeth – Zadie Smith
- A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers – Xiaolu Guo
- Brick Lane – Monica Ali
- A Vicious Circle by Amanda Craig
- The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.
- The Tiger in the Smoke – Margery Allingham
- Only in London – Hanan-Al-Shayk
- An Equal Music – Vikram Seth
- Night Watch – Sarah Waters
- Cheet – Anna Davis
Set in London in the time of World War II, this brilliant novel examines the conflicts between self-love, love for another and love for God. A real classic!
This story focuses on Londoner Matthew Halland and his life as a recently divorced father and architect working on the renovation of an old industrial building. The author uses Matthew’s architectural perspective to not only evoke London’s past eras, civilizations and landscapes, but also reflect on the building up and decaying of human relationships.
A remarkable novel set both in Civil War Spain and in the pubs of Soho, which tells the tale of Meredith Kerr and the four hapless men in her life.
This charming and witty narrative follows three generations of a family caught up in a monstrous web of lies and deceit, starting with 13-year-old Henna’s wedding night, when her husband discovers she is not the accomplished and intelligent 17-year-old her parents said she was.
Written from the perspective of a teenage freelance photographer, this delightful book is set in a rundown part of West London in the summer of 1958 – the time of the Nottinghill race riots.
A social satire about the chaos that ensues when an overnight split in the earth’s crust causes a huge rift beneath the Thames splitting London in two.
This humorous novel tells the story of the devilish Dougal Douglas, who moves from Scotland to London, where he wreaks havoc amongst the lives of the Peckham working class.
A black comedy murder mystery narrated by Samson Young, an American writer living in London who has suffered from writer’s block for 20 years and now has a terminal illness.
From the pen of Julian Fellowes, who won the Oscar for his Screenplay ‘Gosforth Park’. An enjoyable and well-paced novel which sees the narrator searching for an heir to his dying friend Damian’s vast fortune.
Undoubtedly one of Dickens’ most sophisticated works, Our Mutual Friend is a vivid tale about money, fate and human values.
A funny, affirming and uplifting debut novel about friendship, love, war and family.
Despite the title this is in fact a beautiful novel, and tells the story of a young Chinese woman sent by her parents to London to learn English. In an unfamiliar world, where nobody can pronounce her name, she meets an Englishman who has no name…
A captivating tale of desire and the contradictions of life, as told through the eyes of Nazneen, a Bengalese immigrant who finds herself married to a man 20 years her senior and living in East London.
This vivid and passionate novel is set in 90’s London amidst the cut-throat world of literary criticism. Wildly funny, poignant and well-paced!
Set in London in 1886, this much celebrated novel tells the story of Mr Verloc; his life, his job as a secret agent and his relationships with his wife and her family. It was ranked the 46th best novel of the 20th century by Modern Library.
A chilling and highly enjoyable crime novel set in 1930’s London.
This well-written, entertaining book tells the story of a chance meeting of four strangers on a plane, and how their lives intertwine from the moment they touch down in London.
A romance of epic proportions set mainly in London, (with beautiful bits in Venice) told through the eyes of Michael, a violinist with a passion for music, love and life.
This moving and highly acclaimed novel from Sarah Waters tells the stories of four women dealing with disappointment and loss in 1940’s London.
And last but by no means least, Cheet is a fun but surprisingly meaty novel about Kathryn Cheet, a London taxi driver with 5 lives, 5 lovers and 5 colour-coded cellphones to keep track of it all. Her life takes an unexpected turn the day Twinkle arrives…