Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City

Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City - Anna Quindlen This slim volume feels more like an extended essay than a real book. But it's just because it's far from what I would have written - a more plodding, more ordered accounting of places and their literary associations, or books and their topographical associations - that I took a certain amount of enjoyment out of it. There's certainly no way you could ever use it as a reference, but that's patently not what it's intended for, so the lack of index, or helpful chapter headers indicating the organizing principle, are partially forgiven.

This is a foreigner's essay (Quindlen is an American novelist) so it is probably irritating to born-and-bred Londoners, or indeed the British in general. Indeed, in service to her casual tone, she sometimes throws out references to her ignorance that made me growl at the page, "you can't use Google?" There's no particular reason, for instance, she should say "Queen's Counsel, whatever that is..." in this day and age, except to indicate to one's intended audience that that's a piece of information she is just a little pleased not to have. This little book, in fact, is just as much about American-British culture clash as it is about London-based literature. The two are, of course, interwined. But that theme really takes over when Quindlan embarks on her chapter about linguistic differences between the two sides of the Atlantic. To give her credit, she does also make distinctions between the modern (or at least the 2004) version of English and older forms found in various eras of literature.

I was made a little uneasy by the references to Ackroyd's "London: the Biography" here and there, especially in the afterword. It sounds as if its appearance may have come close to sinking the publication of this little work - just guessing. Anyway, I have a high regard for Ackroyd, so I thank Quindlen for bringing my attention to it.

All that said, this was a pleasant couple of hours for someone who has read most of the same literature, and been in enough of the same places in London, to experience the delight of recognition. And I found Quindlen a writer of ease and clarity - enough that I might be tempted to seek out her main genre, her novels.