The Best Novels Set In London

The best literature about The Big Smoke. No Dickens allowed

From tales of booze, squalor and loneliness to razor sharp examinations of the immigrant experience. These are the best novels based in or on our (sometimes) great capital.

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Adrift In Soho by Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson's Beat classic might be more than 50 years old, but its tale of a lost young drifter trying to make sense of it all in the bright lights and seedy alleys of London is still a sharp, relevant and prescient read. An essential for anyone who's moved from the sticks to the big city.

Kill Your Friends by John Niven

Like American Psycho before it, Kill Your Friends is a murderous satire of the zeitgeist, replacing the immoral traders of 80s Wall Street for the music industry vultures of 90s London as New Labour and Brit Pop take hold. Full of blood, coke and pop culture references; protagonist Steven is one of the most despicable, vicious and compelling characters you're ever likely to encounter.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

The lone fantasy novel on our list, Gaiman's Neverwhere explores the dark reaches of a London below ground, where gods and monsters and angels lurk. Don't be put off by the genre, Gaiman's talent lies in crafting fantasy stories that a well-adjusted adult can actually enjoy reading, without feeling embarrassed.

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Zoning in on the drunken and debauched corners of pre-war London, Hangover Square trails the mental disintegration of an Earl's Court man as he allows a toxic infatuation to warp his mind to murder. Patrick Hamilton had a hugely successful career writing about the capital, with this arguably being the jewel in his Big Smoke crown.

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The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

One of the definitive novels on the immigrant experience, The Lonely Londoners is a vivid depiction of the men and women who left the West Indies for the strange and foggy streets of post-war London. Laced with dark humour and compassionate, relatable characters, Selvon's classic draws on his own experience as a Trinidadian who began a new life in the capital back in the 1950s.

Murphy by Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett had a face that was just made for a tortured writer, so it's lucky he was a very good tortured writer indeed. Murphy is his West Brompton-based melancholic examination of a man's pointless life. It follows a funny and flawed cast of characters trying to coax the book's eponymous protagonist out of a depressed and isolated stupor.

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Set in a dystopian future London, Aldous Huxley's 1931 classic is widely regarded as one of the best books of the 20th century. Short and harrowing, Brave New World looks at an existence where critical thinking is eradicated and humans live in controlled, comfortable oppression.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Published when Zadie Smith was only 25, in the 15 years that White Teeth has been out it's become an international best-seller and established itself as one of the definitive novels on the cut and thrust of multicultural London. Grand and ambitious, it tells a generation-spanning story of London, full of wit, tragedy and dysfunctional families.