A Week in Books: Stop the capital depreciation

London's fictional fabric has fallen into disrepair

LITERARY FESTIVALS sprout these days in plate-glass libraries or colonnaded market-halls right across the land. Yet the capital of English letters has never thrown a writers' party of its own. All that will change between 19 and 28 March, when the first London Festival of Literature, "The Word", unites 66 authors (half from the UK, half from abroad) in a 10-day "carnival celebration" of writing. So far, so cheerily upbeat. The Word's ambitious programme - with luminaries stretching from Germaine Greer and Terry Pratchett to Toni Morrison - deserves a fair wind and warm welcome.

But something about this fairground-barker style contradicts the literary essence of the host city. Especially in its incomparably rich fiction, London writing likes to dwell on secrets and silences; on mystery and murk. The old pea-souper fog, after all, survived as a handy metaphor long after Clean Air Acts had driven it from actual streets. From the Charles Dickens of Oliver Twist to the Martin Amis of The Information, London novelists plunge into private worlds that unfold in shadows, not in spotlights. Here in the Smoke, every culture turns into a subculture.

The new issue of Granta (London: the lives of the city; pounds 8.99) confirms this metropolitan taste for hidden and hermetic tales. This must count as one of the magazine's strongest numbers, with 350 pages that encompass Graham Swift, Hanif Kureishi, Helen Simpson, Will Self, Philip Hensher and many others, along with favourite "London Views" depicted by the likes of Julian Barnes, Penelope Lively and Iain Sinclair, who hymns the "molten apocalypse" of Docklands.

For the London writer, nothing that matters exists merely on the surface. Dale Peck offers a gay expat's view of secret East End trysting grounds; Ferdinand Dennis investigates his own past to solve the "puzzle" of the allegorical Africans carved on the Albert Memorial; Jay Rayner meets Shirley Porter to discover the why, as well as the how, of her Westminster gerrymandering; Ian Parker unmasks the concealed cops who monitor London traffic; the Kew housewife in Helen Simpson's story reads millennial prophecies into the planes that stack overhead. And Will Self imagines London bricks as arcane texts, "the spines of buried tablets, covered in cuneiform script".

To crack these codes, we need access to the books that may decipher them. Yet many metropolitan classics have fallen into out-of-print limbo. Skim through the excellent new Waterstone's Guide to London Writing (pounds 3.99), and the phrase "not currently in print" tolls like Bow bells on every other page. Michael Moorcock's Mother London; Colin MacInnes's seminal Absolute Beginners trilogy, Henry Green's great London novels; Derek Raymond's noir masterpiece I was Dora Suarez: publishers' disdain for their own backlists has killed these and other major works.

It is like reading the list of bulldozed City churches, and just as dismal a record of cultural vandalism. A tiny fraction of the Lottery money now spent on London bricks and mortar could restore the capital's literary fabric. Time for strong words at The Word?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition