The Best Book Based in London

Women reading a book

When booking yourself into a Montcalm hotel, you have a lot to look forward to. From the Montcalm Shoreditch Spa to the lengthy strolls through the Royal Parks, visitors to the city often find themselves pretty knackered after a day exploring the city. There are a few remedies to this: you could opt for a pint at your hotel bar, or you could snuggle into your soft Montcalm bed with a good book. Struggling to choose the best book to read on your travels? Why not try any of these London-based novels to get you into the London-spirit from the comfort of your silky linen sheets.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding (1996)

You might be familiar with the name Bridget Jones as a result of the hit-film adaptation starring Rene Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, but the book regularly gets featured on lists of “books to read before you die” and the likes. Reading the book is a far more wholesome, nuanced experience and any visitor to London should have a copy in their bag for when tube rides, buses, or just pretty park benches come a-calling. It is the story of 30-something Bridget and her life in professional London, and the diary format is particularly useful for public transport reading – you can read bits here and there, between stops or in bed after a long day of site-seeing, without losing track of the plot.

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (1989)

Jeanette Winterson is an icon of English writers, with her debut Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985) becoming incredibly popular and the start to her continued fame, as well as her most recent novel, Frankissstein (2019) which was nominated for The Booker Prize 2019. Sexing The Cherry is one of her often underrated novellas, set in 17th century London. It is therefore a great novel to read whilst travelling in London, as the comparison between 21st century London and 17th century London. References to Charles I of England and Oliver Cromwell will pique your interest, inspiring you to visit the British Museum and learn more. In fact, Winterson’s description of London and the smells that used to plague the city will make you grateful you are enjoying the luxury of London Hotels’ Special Offers rather than the London Winterson’s fictional Dog Woman, and her protégé, Jordan, experience!

Live A Little by Howard Jacobson (2019)

Last year, Booker Prize winner from The Finkler Question Howard Jacobson wrote Live A Little, a story so furrowed in the world of North West London and particularly Finchley Road that you won’t be able to resist hopping on the Jubilee Line and riding it all the way to Finchley Road tube station. It is a charming novel about two old people (that is, 90+) and the simplicity yet intimate difficulty of falling in love at the end of your life. The wealthy Beryl – who would probably be partial to a Montcalm Afternoon Tea session – has lived a glamourous but sad, selfish life which she is actually relatively shameless about, despite what people think she ought to feel. Shimi, on the other hand, has lived a life of shame, despite the fact that self-forgiveness is something he ought to have allowed himself many years before. Together, the two fix what is wrong in the other – or rather, accept that there is no “fixing” the human condition, only coexistence, kindness and acceptance.

The Hurtle of Hell by Simon Edge (2018)

The previous recommendations have been published by big publishing houses, so if you haven’t read them, you may have at least heard of them. A book you may have overlooked, however, is The Hurtle of Hell by Simon Edge. The story starts on a beach in the Canary Islands, where Stefano Cartwright nearly drowns. During this near-death experience, he looks into the eyes of God. On getting back to his life in London, he spirals in a crisis of self-loathing in the knowledge that perhaps his life and his choices will be judged by a higher power of which he had previously thought was fiction. Meanwhile, God is having an existential crisis because Stefano is the first person who has appeared to see him back – he usually just watches from the comets as people go about their everyday lives. What follows is an amusing, touching story that involves God getting stuck in Hackney. What more can you want from a London-based book?

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus (2018)

The Perseverance is a poetry collection by Hackney-based poet Raymond Antrobus, and is really making waves in the industry as it is showing people who have always thought of poetry as a frumpy, difficult genre that poetry can be accessible and enjoyable for everyone – even those plagued by Shakespeare in high school. Raymond grew up in Hackney to a Jamaican father and English mother, and his poetry is deeply rooted in the world of east London and his life within it. It also draws on his experience of deafness, and the world’s perception of people hard of hearing. He will be performing his poetry at the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury on 12 February 2020, and attending this London-based event having read his work will make your experience particularly special.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1837)

What is so wonderful about lists like this compiled about London literature is realising how long the city has been inspiration for fiction. With Dickens writing in 1837, and Howard Jacobson in 2019, it shows that London has been a creative hub for hundreds of years. Oliver Twist is the story of a young orphan child born in a workhouse and sold to a funeral director, who runs away to the Big Smoke to “make his fortune”. Unfortunately, though somewhat fortunately too, he ends up joining a gang of young pickpockets led by the protective figure (yet common thief), Fagin. The novel later inspired the hit musical Oliver! Which has in the past been a West End success of note. It shines a light on olden-times London that is absolutely fascinating, and something no museum tour will bring to life quite so vividly.

So, next time you find yourself in need of some literature whilst travelling in London, why not try a book about the area? There is nothing quite like exploring parts of the city when the fictional characters you are reading about have walked the same streets.