Literary London with Patricia Duncker

This year, London Book & Screen Week will be taking place from 13th – 19th April, uniting readers, writers, gamers and film fans, with hundreds of events taking place across the capital that celebrate stories and the written word in all its forms. 

You’ll find lots of events are listed at:

It’s at time like this that I wish that Cornwall wasn’t quite so far from London; but I’m lucky that books, films and art can transport me back there, without having to worry about practicalities, and without having to stay at his particular point in history ….

I mention this because last week I was invited to take part in a blog tour.


To celebrate this year’s London Book and Screen Week, five top authors will be revealing their favourite books about London on seven top blogs over seven days, as part of the first ever ‘London Book & Screen Week Blog Tour’ .

 * * * * * * *

And so I am pleased to present Patricia Duncker, the author of six wonderfully diverse novels, two volumes of short stories, and many literary essays and scholarly articles.

I’m reading her most recent novel Sophie and the Sibyl, published by Bloomsbury this week. It’s inspired by a chapter in the life of George Eliot, it’s intriguing, and it makes me very interested to know what she has to say.

To celebrate London Book & Screen Week, Patricia will be interviewed by John Mullan as part of a Bloomsbury Book Club event on Wednesday 15th April. Tickets are available here.

And today we have her thoughts about books and London:

My top 3 books about/set in London

 1. Charles Dickens Bleak House (1853)

The very first word of this grandiose polemic on the condition of England is London. The scene opens in the court of Chancery and the action concentrates on the machinations of the lawyers in Lincoln’s Inn. Mr. Tulkinghorn is the evil, prying spider, uncovering family secrets.  My sister-in-law is a barrister. She tells me all the lawyers love this book.

2. Bram Stoker Dracula  (1897)

The fabulous Count starts buying up real estate in Purfleet even before he comes to London. Van Helsing arrives at Liverpool Street and dramatic vampire action takes place on Hampstead Heath. London is the prize and the night streets are unsafe when the Count leaves his coffin.

 3. Michèle Roberts Paper Houses (2007)

This memoir of the 1970s and beyond is a portrait of the artist as a witty, radical young woman. Roberts has written many of her novels in and about London. Here she tells her story of art and life through the locations where she lived and wrote. No one else captures in such sensual prose the smells, sounds and textures of the London streets where she walks.


My top place to read in London

The café nearest to the Primrose Hill bookshop in Regent’s Park Road. I buy a heap of books at the shop and then retire to the café to gloat over my purchases!

 My favourite on screen/video game book adaptation

My fave book to screen adaptation is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1990s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman as the Count. It has the immortal line ‘ I have crossed oceans of time to be with you’,  and catches the theatrical qualities of the Gothic.

* * * * * * *

And now I’m thinking about that …..  Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill ….. conjured up by Dickens at the start of Bleak House again.

So please distract me – tell me which book, which film, which anything at all, transports you to London!

18 responses

    • I don’t know how anyone could fail to love the opening of Bleak House! And I’m delighted to have a recommendation for Miss Webster and Chérif, because that’s a novel by Patricia Duncker that I have yet to read.

  1. I can only think of one…Mrs. Dalloway…but now I’m distracted! I’ve just learned that there’s a fictional retelling of George Eliot’s life that you would recommend. What a lovely way to start the day!

  2. Wonderful post Fleur. My present London transporter, mainly because I’ve been reading and watching it, is Patrick Hamilton’s wonderful evocation of London at the tail end of the 20s and early 30s, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky. I have, waiting in my TBR another in Penguin Classics reissue, Norman Collins London Belongs To Me. It might have to rise up the TBR!

    • Oh, I really should have remembered Patrick Hamilton. The opening to ‘The Salves of Solitude’ is up there with ‘House’ and I know I have a copy of ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky’ somewhere in the house. There’s a copy of ‘London Belongs to Me’ too, and Norman Collins’ ‘Bond Street Story’ which has another fabulous opening.

    • Well that’s me off on a book research trip across the internet. I’ve been meaning to read Penelope Lively but I can’t place that title. I was underwhelmed by ‘Sliding Doors’ I’m afraid, possibly because I was living in London when it was released.

  3. I’m afraid that one book that transports me to London is not a pleasant one. It’s Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, about the cholera outbreak in Victorian London. I read it right after a visit to the city and could see the events in my mind because of that. Now I can’t get those pictures out of my head. 🙂 I’ll keep my eyes open during the blog tour; maybe I find something that can add pleasant pictures of London to my imagination.

    • That sounds like a powerful book, and I can understand why you’d not want the images to come back. I’ve just thought of Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May books which reflect the authors love of London, and I am sure that there are many other interesting possibilities out there for you to find.

  4. I enjoyed reading this London-themed post, Jane. I’m another fan of Bleak House, and Dracula would be up there too. It’s interesting Lady Fancifull should mention Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky as I have a copy on the shelves. Must get around it as I absolutely loved Slaves of Solitude when I read it last year.

  5. maybe because I have been discussing this book so much lately, I would say it again and say it on your blog as well…Edward Rutherford’s London – it is a epic yarn spanning over 2000 years of the city’s history. I would also go with Bleak House for similar reasons and yet another book would be Katherine by Anya Seton; set in 14th century London and finally and I promise this is final is Dark Angles by Karleen Koen – Restoration England and Charles II and his London court come ALIVE!! And now I will stop before being more distracted

    • I’ve been looking at Edward Rutherford’s books in the library for years, and resisting because they looked so very long, but I might finally be tempted by a London book. And thinking of London history reminds me of The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys’ The Frozen Thames, which is a lovely little book of words and pictures inspired by one aspect of that history.

  6. I second cirtnecce’s mention of Rutherfurd’s “London.” Really any of his books. They don’t seem too long when reading because of sure flow of his writing, and the way he finishes one dramatic story, and starts another one–successive novellas connected by place. I am being very literal here, but I immediately thought also of Peter Ackroyd’s “London”–within the frame of nonfiction, he is certainly a wonderful storyteller. He has also written a “biography” of the Thames, but I can think of no more unforgettable evocation of that river at a certain time period than the gruesome, despairing scene that opens “Our Mutual Friend.”

    • The man of the house has both Ackroyd books, and I won’t read the for a while because he spoke about them a great deal as he read, but I’ll definitely pick them up one day. Rutherford too, and ‘Our Mutual Friend’ is calling me louder than most of Dickens’ other works.

  7. I love the Dracula film starring Gary Oldham, another film that transports me to London is An American Werewolf in London. I think book wise I think I would still pick Dickens but his Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol instead.

    • I ‘d agree with any of those choices, and you’ve made me think of David Lean’s film of ‘Great Expectations’ which has some great London scenes, especially the one near the end on the Thames ….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: