“There’s No Frigate Like a Book to Take us Lands Away”

Dear Reader,

Before we begin, I’ll save you a Google: a ‘frigate’ is a “medium-sized, square-rigged warship”, you’re welcome 😉.

The above quote is the opening line to an Emily Dickinson poem and, quite frankly, I couldn’t agree more! For a certain obvious reason, I haven’t travelled very much in the last few years but a borderline unhealthy reading habit allowed me to discover new places, both real and imagined. Though the world has now opened up its doors again, there’s still nothing quite like a literary adventure to get you in the travelling mood.

With that in mind, I reached out to our wonderful faculty to recommend their favourite novels set in our beloved city. Here’s what they came back with:

Charlotte Young, History Professor: Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens

The story revolves around the supposed murder of a man who had just inherited a large sum of money after the death of his father. People from all levels of society…are drawn together through their various connections to the murdered man, and the contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor is really skilfully represented by Dickens.

Simon Goldsworthy, Advertising and Marketing Professor: Gorsky, Vesna Goldsworthy

“[Gorsky] describes the world of a fabulously rich Russian oligarch in London as dubiously acquired Russian money makes its mark here earlier in the 2000s, as seen through the eyes of an impoverished bookshop assistant whom he hires to create an unsurpassed library.”

Andreas Staab, Economics Professor: Capital, John Lanchester

Unsurprisingly, Andreas has recommended a novel that is set during the 2008 financial crash! However, what John Lanchester does here is humanise the crisis with compassion and humour in a “fast-paced narrative of intertwined London lives”.

Christopher Cook, Media and Arts Journalism Professor: Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton

“Set in Earl’s Court in 1939. A doomed love affair somehow heralds the coming of the Second World War in Europe, six years that will transform the old London physically and psychologically. It is dark and sometimes knowingly funny. Hamilton is the English Laureate of romantic folly.”

Andrew Whitehead, Politics and News Journalism Professor: Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes

“It’s the late 1950s, and for the first time, teenagers have money in their pockets – and they are making the cultural weather… Then vicious race riots break out after white Teddy Boy rock’n’rollers beat up Black migrants from the Caribbean and everyone has to take a stand. This is my favourite London novel – it has huge energy, and is such an intense description of a place and a time; ‘my God I love this city, horrible though it may be’, the teenager muses about London, ‘and never ever want to leave it, come what it may send me’.”

Susie Thomas, Theatre and Literature Professor: The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi

“I'll let it speak for itself: "The city blew the windows of my brain wide open." The young narrator feels vertiginous with possibility but also utterly lost.”

And there you have it, a little look into London-based literature! If you do end up picking up one of these recommendations, don’t forget to let me and the faculty know.


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