Places of Fiction: Edward Rutherfurd’s London: The Novel

· Exploring the world through words ·

I know I’m not the first person to fall in love with London. The English city has been captivating people for over 2000 years and thanks to movies, TV shows, and books, there are some who fall in love with it without ever visiting.

For those of us who have visited, or have been lucky to call it home, one of the pleasures of these stories is recognizing streets, areas, and buildings. One of the best books for this is Edward Rutherfurd 1997 London: The Novel. Tracing a fictionalized history – though deeply rooted in fact – of several families in the Capital, London brings the city’s past alive. From the pre-Roman history through to 1997, this novel touches on all the professions and types of people who have inhabited the city over the years through relatable and interesting characters.

Today, we think of London as a sprawling metropolis. However, for much of its history, as London demonstrates, the city was contained to the area around the Tower of London and what is now the City of London. It’s hard to believe that so much could have taken place in such a small area of the city, but it truly was the heart of London for hundreds of years.

There is nothing more delightful than reading London and recognizing the street names referenced or learning the history of a building you’ve passed by hundreds of times. A few weeks ago, I was wandering around Kensington and took a walk through Holland Park. I loved the houses on the southwest side of the park and snapped a picture of a particularly unique house complete with a tower. I intended to look it up, but forgot. A week or so later, London referenced this exact house! It prompted me to finally look it up and I found that it was owned by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page in the seventies.

The book is full of these connections and alternatively has the power to inspire. On another recent trip into London I was trying to decide what to do. I decided I had the urge to visit Regent’s Park as it was supposed to be a particularly nice day for February. There are many lovely parks in London I could’ve chosen but I was especially drawn to Regent’s Park on this trip. I realized a few days after that it was probably because there was a lot of talk of Regent’s Park being developed in the later chapters of London.

Picturing the places you know and imagining them as they once were gives you more of an appreciation for the legacy of those places. I was already enamored with London and thought I knew much of its history before reading the novel, but I came away with a much better understanding as to how some of the areas and traditions of the Big Smoke came to be.

London is powerful in that it can bring to life the city’s streets for both those who know them and those who have never touched foot along the banks of the Thames. Samuel Johnson famously said,” For there is in London all that life can afford.” Rutherfurd’s London reinforces this and more. An epic tale for an epic city.


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