Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Maybe it's because I was a Londoner (briefly)

After spending a few years in London now that I'm leaving I keep thinking about all the good bits about it - rose-tinted glasses, I have a habit of donning them when it's time to move on. I've also been thinking about novels in which a city features almost as much as the characters, probably because I'm currently re-reading Graham Greene's A Quiet American and Saigon is just as much a part of the narrative as Fowler and Pyle. But in honour of the city that I have called home for almost three years (which is the longest I have lived anywhere in over a decade), today's blog is dedicated to two very different novels featuring good old London town.

The Book of Dave, Will Self
Cover of "The Book of Dave: A Novel"It's been a good while since I read this and although the language (Self's invented Mokni dialect, which is a mixture of cockney, text speak and various other bits and bobs pulled in from all sort of places) made it difficult to get into, it was worth the perseverance and this novel has stayed with me for a long time. Told in two parts - the present day of Dave and an unspecified time in the future - it is a parody of religious faith and the human race's willingness to blindly follow edicts written in ancient tomes. Dave is a taxi driver and he drives around the city bemoaning his fate that has seen his wife leave him for another man and take his son with her. He is mad and depressed and he hates everyone who doesn't know the streets of London and whose only idea of the city's layout comes from the tube map. He writes his rants in the Book of Dave and in the future society is living by the laws they have created from them, and singing hymns that are actually extracts from 'The Knowledge' (for you overseas readers, that's a test that London cabbies have to pass). It's funny, sad and oh so clever. Read it, you won't regret it.

The Hand that First Held Mine, Maggie O'Farrell
This latest novel from Maggie O'Farrell perfectly captured the bohemian vibe of Soho in that brief time when it was the place to be for writers, artists, musicians and actors as London recovered from the war years and headed for the swinging sixties. Flicking between Lexie's story in the late 1950s as she arrives in the city from rural Cornwall, and Elina and Ted's as they become parents for the first time in present day London, the sense of place in this book is one of its core strengths. As always with stories from Maggie O'Farrell its a real tear jerker and it deals with issues of identity and self, and how easy it is to forget who you really are.

Next up on my list of London-based books to read is Hanif Kureshi's The Buddha of Suburbia. Have you got any recommendations for me?


  1. I might see if I can't read The Book of Dave. Of course, I still have to get started on my summer reading...but keeps happening and I haven't picked up my Kindle or a book yet!! YIKES. Maybe I should just call it Autumn reading??? LOL :) Thanks for sharing these books!!

    Cheers, Jenn.

  2. You're right, sometimes the city can be one of the main characters in a novel! My WIP is based in Glasgow, and I really want to highlight the good AND bad parts of the city, but there's just so many excellent books out there, based around Glasgow, I'm feart I won't do it justice!

    Those books all sound like fab reads, I must put them on my TBR list :)

  3. Jenn - just call it reading then it doesn't matter when it happens!

    Catherine - I'm sure your vision of Glasgow will do the city justice. Believe!

  4. oh, I know that habit well, of donning those rose-tinted glasses; now that I"m home and thrown back into the routine. Especially of cooking meals!

  5. Sandra, my rose-tinted glasses are my favourite accessory. Like to wear them most days, its makes the world a much nicer place :)

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