by Richard Davies
It's dirty, it's loud, it's grumpy, it's historic, it's constantly being reinvented and it's a great place to set a novel. London is full of authors and many of them are writing about the city, and it's been that way for centuries.
Like the city itself, the list of books where the plot threads through London's crowded streets is immense and rather overpowering. Where does one start when recommending books set in the city? We are assuming you have already read enough Dickensian literature although Oliver Twist is always worth revisiting. We're deducing Sherlock Holmes is too obvious for this reading list.
Instead we have tried to fashion a list that reflects the real London although we're thrown in a few distinctly old fashioned novels. This list is a baffling mix of violence and crime, immigrants and travelers, trouble-makers and politicians, lovers and the lonely-hearted, forgotten corners and famous places, and dingy bedsits and subterranean tunnels.
These novels are filled with characters that have almost no tolerance for fools (just like anyone who has lived in the city for more than 12 months) and others that have the ability to carry on regardless no matter how bad things become. Numerous novels are set just before, during or just after World War II when the city took the brunt of Germany's firepower. Many books look at the London beneath our feet either through life on the Tube or in the sewers and tunnels under the busy streets. Crime is a reoccurring theme but, in reality, most visitors brought up on the Artful Dodger never see anything amiss.
London changes fast. Graham Greene's London, battered and bruised from the bombs, is quite different from Monica Ali's London where immigration is the key element as new communities replace the old ones. But perhaps a few things do remain the same - the ambition, the people in falling love and the city's obsession with sport are enduring.
Isn't funny how no-one writes about the weather?
I have forgotten how many times I have missed my stop on the Tube because of a good book, or sat in Green Park reading at lunchtime. London gave us Penguin, and Gollancz, and Faber and Faber, and the next great novel set in this city is just around the corner.