NW is many things, as you’ll discover reading it and as we’ll discuss as the month goes on, but one of those things is it’s a London novel – a genre in its own right, as Zadie Smith’s fellow novelist (and critic) Philip Hensher discusses in the Telegraph.
“Some cities lend themselves to mythology and homage. Others just get on with it. There are endless songs about Paris; endless films which are about, rather than simply set in, New York. But London? Who ever thought of writing a song called ‘I love London in the springtime’? Who ever thought of starting a movie with a long shot of the London skyline as a jazz classic kicks off on the soundtrack, like Woody Allen’s Manhattan?
“But when we get to the question of novels about London, the result is different. Novelists have been constantly drawn to the great city, with the intention not of presenting a spectacle – it won’t work like that – but of explaining the workings and secret relationships of a vast whole.”
Read the full article here.
Hensher argues that “The Great London Novel” is an impossiblity, because “there is too much there to cover”.
Nonetheless, there have been plenty of (lower-case) great London novels.
What are your favourites?
Here are a few of mine (if you’ll permit the broadest possible definition of a London novel, one in which the city or part of the city is a crucial character in the novel and more than a mere backdrop):
Our Mutual Friend, Little Dorrit and Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (the latter even beginning with the one-word sentence: “London”).
Viles Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh
Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky and The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton
Party Going, by Henry Green
The Ministry of Fear and The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene
The Girls of Slender Means and Memento Mori, by Muriel Spark
Absolute Beginners and City of Spades, by Colin MacInnes
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters
There’ll be others I’ve forgotten, and many more I’ve not read.
Recommendations, Book Clubbers?