London in Literature
“It seems that she can survive, she can prosper, if she has London around her.”
― Michael Cunningham, The Hours
I’ve lived in London for just over 10 years (which makes me feel incredibly old!) and it will always be so special to me. It’s the city where I met Sam and where Dougie was born. Next week however, we’re moving home, and it definitely feels like the end of a huge chapter. Although we aren’t move that far away, and as excited as I am, it’s bittersweet. I absolutely love where we live. I’ve made the most incredible friends, I’ve loved exploring the area with Sam and Dougie, this was our first family home.
I imagine that if you’ve lived in London at some point, you’ll have lived in some sort of flatshare, and chances are, you’ll have moved around a lot. House prices in London can make finding a lovely home, whether to rent or buy, really difficult – a point brought up in Beth O’Leary’s amazing book, The Flatshare.
When I first moved to London, I worked in a dance shop and lived with my uncle in Wimbledon, before moving to North London into a flat share with three other girls. After this, I lived with two friends for a couple of years around Greenwich and Canary Wharf and then went into a house share in Blackheath. Next I moved up to Finsbury Park and lived in a pretty grim studio apartment, then moved in with a friend in Brixton. Sam and I then lived with his family for a bit to save money before buying our flat in West Dulwich where we’ve lived now for four years. In just a few days, we’ll be moving to Worcester Park, into what will hopefully be our forever home – which will make it 10 homes in 10 years!
As well as being the setting for my life for the last decade, London is the backdrop for so many of my favourite books, as well as being home to some incredible bookshops…
Bookish London quotes
London is the setting of so many incredible books, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite literary London quotes…
“How sweet the morning air is! See how that one little cloud floats like a pink feather from some gigantic flamingo. Now the red rim of the sun pushes itself over the London cloud-bank. It shines on a good many folk, but on none, I dare bet, who are on a stranger errand than you and I. How small we feel with our petty ambitions and strivings in the presence of the great elemental forces of Nature!”
― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I
“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”
― Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
“And the ground and the dirty buildings on either side fell away, dropping out of sight as the car rose; in seconds, the whole of London lay, smoky and glittering, below them.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“Commuting in London is basically warfare. It’s a constant campaign of claiming territory; inching forward; never relaxing for a moment. Because if you do, someone will step past you. Or step on you.”
― Sophie Kinsella, My Not So Perfect Life
London is home to some incredible bookshops. The lovely Amy has shared some of her favourites over on her blog, and I wanted to share some of mine…
Southbank Centre Book Market
Where: 337-338 Belvedere Rd, South Bank, London SE1 9PX
When: Everyday – 10am – 7pm
I absolutely love South Bank Book Market. It’s second-hand and antique books, and there are always people browsing. They aren’t badly priced and there is a really impressive selection.
Where: 107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT
When: Monday – Saturday: 9am – 9pm, Sunday: 11:30am – 6pm
There are seven Foyles stores in England, but the flagship store on Charing Cross Road is my favourite. It’s huge, and I can easily spend hours in there. It has over 200,000 titles on 6.5km of shelves according to their website, which is amazing! There’s also gifts, stationery, magazines, printed music… literally everything a bibliophile could want!
Word on the Water
Where: Regent’s Canal Towpath, Kings Cross, London N1C 4BZ
When: 12pm – 7pm
A 1920s barge boat was transformed into a floating bookstore, which permanently resides by Granary Square in Kings Cross. I used to regularly walk past it when I was walking from my old job to Sam’s flat in Tufnell Park and it always made me feel happy. There’s even a dog, and sometimes they have live music performances on the roof (deck?!) of the boat. It’s the most charming place to visit if you’re in London.
Lewisham Micro Library
Where: Lewisham Way, London SE8 4DL
Okay, so this one is a library rather than a bookshop, but look how amazing it is?! It’s just by St John’s Wood station, and is known as London’s smallest library. Seb Handley bought the phone box for £1 and transformed it into the library. There’s now also a nearby children’s micro library at the top of nearby Wickham Road.
London in literature
I couldn’t do this post without listing some of my favourite books that are set in London. There are absolutely hundreds, but I thought I’d keep it to ten!
- A Week in December (Sebastian Faulks)
- Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovitch)
- Bridget Jones’ Diary (Helen Fielding)
- Her (Harriet Lane)
- The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
- About a Boy (Nick Hornby)
- Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
- How to Stop Time (Matt Haig)
- Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
- Brick Lane (Monica Ali)
I really could go on about the literary aspects of London for ages! Do you have any favourite books set in London, or where you live?