North London Food & Culture

Page-turners! 12 local novels for lockdown

From soapy classics and domestic dramas to crime romps and LGBTQ thrillers, these enjoyable reads all have an NW connection

Yep, it’s another few weeks of dialling our lives down a bit, perhaps being furloughed, and taking more than our fair share of daily walks.

And if, back on that hardworking sofa, Holidate or Emily In Paris aren’t quite holding the attention, here are a dozen disparate novels, an entertaining ragbag of the classic, disposable and new.

Better still, their plots and characters all boast varying degrees of connection to Kentish Town, Gospel Oak, Tufnell Park and this patch of North London generally. Disclaimer: they’re listed in no particular order.

Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller
A masterful study of loneliness and obsession, Heller’s bestseller is set in Archway, Belsize Park, the Heath and the surrounding areas. The film, starring Judi Dench, is just as good, too. Best line (and sadly more than relevant for some folk at the moment)? “But about the drip drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing.”


Beneath The Streets, Adam Macqueen
This new LGBTQ thriller, released last month, fizzes in the era of the Jeremy Thorpe scandal of the mid 1970s. With a fast-witted male prostitute-turned-detective as narrator, it’s a proper page-turning romp: the opening scene is especially brilliant, breathlessly propelling the helpless reader straight into Chapter Two. A good chunk of (dramatic) action takes place in a bedsit in Kentish Town, too.

Greatest Hits, Laura Barnett
The Versions Of Us author’s sequel is a simpler yarn than her ambitiously plotted debut, but no less addictive. A fat epic to accompany you through 4pm lockdown darkness, it’s a stroll through fictitious singer-songwriter Cass Wheeler’s complete life story, with the pre-fame years taking place in a bohemian squat in Gospel Oak. Oh, and the soundtrack – created especially by singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams – is excellent (it’s permanently on my Spotify).

Late In The Day, Tessa Hadley
Another 2020 release, the location of the key protagonists’ flat is never quite stated in this autumnal novel by Tessa Hadley, but you don’t need to be Miss Marple to work it out. Few edge-of-seat thrills here, but the soapy combination of midlife questioning, adultery and contemplative yearning should appeal to a certain demographic at this reflective time.

The Road Home, Rose Tremain
An Orange Prize winner back in 2008, Tremain’s absorbing novel follows 43-year old Lev who travels from a small unspecified village in eastern Europe to London to seek work. At a key point he moves into a room in Tufnell Park.

Her, Harriet Lane
This understated revenge yarn is of two women with very different lives – Emma a struggling mother, Nina a successful artist – connected by an event that occurred many years before. Local colour abounds, from a former piano factory in Kentish Town to lunch at Mario’s Cafe. Read Harriet Lane’s inspiration for Her here.

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
Creepy tale of identical twins set in a flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery. Nothing could lend itself better to lockdown reading, right? Shudder.

One Day, David Nicholls
Never actually bothered to read it? Pour yourself a glass of bubbly and dive into this bestselling 2006 novel-turned-blockbuster Anne Hathaway movie. Set across north London, heroine Emma Morley gets her first job at Tex Mex restaurant Loco Caliente on Kentish Town Road.

NW, Zadie Smith
Strangely, Smith glides over NW5 in this thought-provoking story of four inter-connected lives, but there’s plenty of Camden, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, and Archway in what is a tragi-comic and distinctly memorable short novel.

I Saw A Man, Owen Sheers
Dipping a hairy toe into Notes On a Scandal’s murky waters – the solo individual’s destructive bond with a family – Sheers’ work explores male bereavement and grief. Location-wise, it takes in everything from South End Green to the Nevada desert.

Hollow Man, Oliver Harris
Pure escapism: an exciting crime thriller featuring corrupt Hampstead detective Nick Belsey that rips through the area; also recommended is its sequel, Deep Shelter.

Tomorrow’s Past, Emma Dally
If you can track this knowing pulp classic down, we have two words of advice: buy it! Near-incest, murder, domestic abuse, horse castration, home abortions and prostitutes (on darling Leverton Street, no less!) in this 1940s-set family saga in NW5. Oh my. You’ll forget about Covid, Trump and Brexit in a giddy flash.

This list is purely subjective and is in no way meant to be comprehensive. Have a favourite read set in the area? Join in on Facebook or Twitter. You should be able to buy some of these books from Owl Bookshop, which is open for takeaway orders, click & collect and home delivery throughout lockdown, or any other independent locally.

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