Best London Fiction (an ongoing list)

China Mieville – The Tain

This short novella by China Mieville, master of speculative fiction, famous for such novels as ‘Perdido Street Station’ and ‘The City & the City’, riffs off an idea from Jorge Luis Borges (‘The Fauna of Mirrors’) with awesome results. Set in a destroyed, post-war London, the story will remind of you both ’28 Days Later’’ and ‘I am Legend’, but is genuinely original in its execution, and bloody fun too, climaxing with a showdown in a destroyed British Museum. Other London focused Mieville works are his first novel, ‘King Rat’ and his novel for young adults, ‘Un Lun Dun’, both of which I recommend.

Iain Sinclair – Downriver

“The whiff of razed cordite drifting from the ghetto”.

Written in what was to become Sinclair’s signature hyper-dense prose, ‘Downriver’ is set in a nightmare, almost-real London of the late 80’s/early 90’s where The Widow (Maggie!) rules supreme, in a landscape of rampant property speculation, failed industry, and concreting over of the past . Difficult, heady stuff but worth the investment of time and energy, but don’t go looking for a plot.

Sinclair went on to explore his London obsessions in the slightly more accessible, non-fiction works like ‘Lights Out for the Territory’ and ‘London Orbital’. Read everything he’s written.

Warren Ellis – Hellblazer: Haunted

“London’s built on ghosts.”

This is one of my favourite story arcs that run through the Hellblazer series of graphic novels, author Warren Ellis bringing the character of John Constantine back to a grimy, realistic London just as the New Labour government come to power in 1997, in a storyline that involves him tracking down the murderer of an ex-girlfriend killed in a Brixton bedsit, in a horrific Crowley-esque ritual. Featuring corrupt, uncaring police, junkies, the homeless, all of London’s underbelly is at the forefront here giving the story the feel of some of the best London crime films (e.g. ‘Mona Lisa’). This is mixed with a real sense of the macabre, all interspersed with Constantine’s musings on ‘haunted’ London – stories of babies drowned in the Thames, the ghost of man tortured beneath Chiswick Police Station, roasted heretics, screams from what was Newgate prison. It’s bleak stuff, even for Hellblazer, with a refusal to indulge in any heroics ,that make this one of the finest examples that this series has to offer.

Maureen Duffy – Capital

Maureen Duffy’s ‘Capital’ seems to prefigure the boom in London psychogeography as practised by Sinclair, Moorcock and Ackroyd by about a decade, and this novel is a fine example of her work. Focusing on the character of Meepers, a homeless yet enlightened and educated man who literally hears the voices of London’s dead, we follow his mission to understand the destruction of London in the Dark Ages (if indeed that happened), and his hounding of a University professor, Emery, who once rejected one of his ‘crackpot’ papers. In the novel London becomes illuminated with a jostling cacophony of voices from Neanderthal Man to Saxon invaders, Romans, Normans, King Arthur and Merlin, and even the flea that spread the Black Death. Recommended.

Will Self - The Book of Dave

In obvious tribute to Russell Hoban’s awesome ‘Riddley Walker’, Will Self creates a far-future society where London has sunk beneath the waves leaving only the island of ‘Ham’ (Hampstead) where the locals follow the teaching of ‘The Book of Dave’ – a misogynistic rant written by an early twenty-first century cabbie in the grips of rage and psychosis about the loss of both his marriage and custody of his child. The novel follows the story in both the future – a trip to New London, where heretics are broken upon ‘The Wheel’ and locked up, and the possibility that another Book may have been found, refuting the teachings of Dave, all written in a Riddley-esque language called, appropriately, ‘mokni’ – and now, focusing on Dave the cabbie and his life in modern London, and how he came to write the book. Works best on the level of allegory, but with a real human heart lacking in some of Will Self’s earlier novels and stories. A great examination of modern relationships and parentage, taken to horrendous extremes in the drowned world of future-London.