A selection of new books about the capital. All can be found in or ordered from your local independent book shop.
Describing a Ned Beauman novel is like describing a rainbow, or the smell of a garden after a rainstorm. Yes, it’s just light refracting and wet earth, but these prosy facts can never convey how beautiful, how utterly evocative they are. But this is a review, and it is our lot to try.
A Ned Beauman novel is a bit like a conversation with the most intellectually curious person you’ll ever meet, but not the kind you’d slowly edge away from at parties. His plots are layers upon layers of seemingly random stories and tangents that peel away to reveal a coherent whole. He lays out so many niche scientific facts that we keep breaking off to Google if what he’s saying is really true; and he has a tendency with imagery of comparing two things so different that at first you marvel at the kind of brain that would connect the two, then concede the simile works so well you will henceforth be unable to disassociate them.
This plot: Glow is the name of a new drug doing the rounds of Peckham and Camberwell, and is Raf’s entry into a world of corporate espionage, Burmese politics, quasi-military activities, chemistry and urban foxes. And so much more. Just be warned: one Ned Beauman novel will lead inexorably down a rabbit hole of immediately gobbling up his other two. Tell your friends you’ll be offline for a while.
Miranda Road the street is round the corner from Archway station, and where Georgina Hardiman goes to raise her daughter after falling pregnant during the May ’68 student protests in France. She had plans to see the world, but never got further than Paris. Heather Reyes’s book follows Georgina and her daughter, Eloisa’s, lives from the late 60s to near the present day: their experiences, thoughts, hopes, fears and writings.
Miranda Road the novel straddles the channel, having feet in both London and Paris, and though Georgina may have left her heart in France the book is a love letter to living and growing up in the less salubrious bits of our capital. Freezing flats, public transport, fumbled and disappointing love: it’s as recognisable a portrait of London as it is of the kind of ordinary life that often flies under the radar.
Go on a journey into the murky heart of Shakespeare’s London with this meticulously researched novel by Sally O’Reilly. She’s imagined the backstory of Aemilia Lanyer, the first Englishwoman acknowledged as a poet and about whom we know precious little other than her being a candidate for Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. This is a tale of love, revenge, playhouses, the Bard, witchcraft, a fair amount of bodice-ripping and plenty of salty Tudor language.
But the real joy is the nuggets of historical detail: descriptions of Bartholomew Fair, the original Globe theatre and the city’s stinking streets leap off the page. We loved the little details, like how donkeys wore straw shoes to stop them slipping on the ice during Frost Fairs and a casual reference to the “bluebell fields of Charing Cross”. We’d quibble with the plotline that (fictionally) says Lanyer wrote Macbeth (ignoring the whole Oxfordian school, is it not enough that she was the first female professional poet?) but otherwise this is a fun read.
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