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?

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot