Before you go on your British holiday it’s always fun to whet your appetite for a place by reading about it. When it comes to reading about England, you have almost endless possibilities. Here are a few suggestions.
Has any country produced as many great and enduring writers as England? It’s impossible in a brief survey to even scratch the surface.
The wonderful thing about England — at least, if you love literature — is that you can visit the homes of many great poets and novelists, and see with your own eyes the towns, cities, and landscapes that inspired them.
Here are some suggestions for English novels:
If you’re going to visit Dorset or Devon, you may want to read a novel or two by Thomas Hardy, who set his works in the fictional county of Wessex. Hardy’s best-known works are Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Daphne du Maurier’s famous romantic novel Rebecca is set in a great house on the coast of Cornwall.
The fascinating historical novels of Edward Rutherfurd follow the fates of families and fortunes in specific places or regions of England over thousands of years: Sarum is about Salisbury; London is about London; The Forest is about life in the New Forest.
The Cazalet Chronicles, four novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard, take place in London and on the south coast of England between the two world wars.
Alan Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize–winner, The Line of Beauty, etches a portrait of London during the Thatcher years.
Zadie Smith’s brilliantly hilarious White Teeth is the story of two immigrant families in North London.
Ian McEwan’s best-selling Saturday evokes the life of an upper- middle-class family in London today. His 2007 novel, On Chesil Beach, takes place in 1962 and chronicles the disastrous honey- moon of a sexually mismatched couple.
Kate Fox’s entertaining pop-psych book Watching the English deals humorously with the “hidden rules” of English behavior as it relates to social class and “Englishness.”
A.A. Gill, a British social critic, skewers his countrymen in The Angry English, arguing that beneath all that cool English reserve lies a boiling rage.
Thousands of tomes have been written about the history of England. One recent and noteworthy offering is Simon Schama’s three-volume History of Britain, which accompanied a program of the same name on the BBC History Channel. For popular biographies of historical figures, try Antonia Fraser’s The Wives of Henry VIII and Cromwell. You can find many good biographies of Elizabeth I, including Alison Weir’s The Life of Elizabeth I.