The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of London by Laurence Manley (editor)

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The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of London by Laurence Manley (editor)

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Hit and miss account of London's place in English literature. With a wide range of topics there's likely to be something worth taking a look at, but it's not the most accessible of books.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 322 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 978-0521722315

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The history of London is a long and storied one, and it's unsurprising that so many people have written about the capital. I've always loved the city, its history and novels and plays set within London, so was really keen to get my hands on this new volume in the Cambridge Companion series.

Containing 14 essays on the London described by a variety of authors, poets and playwrights, ranging from Chaucer to Ian McEwan, via Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf, this is certainly a comprehensive look at its subject. It splits the history of literature into mainly chronological chapters such as London in the Victorian novel and Immigration and postwar London literature, and with such a masssive range of topics there's certain to be at least something that'll interest everyone here. However, there may not be enough to keep their interest completely. I don't want to sound overly critical, but I'm struggling to see the target audience for this one in some ways. The essays, at generally 20 pages or so, seem to be a little too brief for the serious scholars, but they're written for the most part in a rather inaccessible manner which will perhaps put off the more casual reader - even those like myself with a real love of the city. There are certainly exceptions, but taking the book as a whole this is a little hard to recommend.

Having said that, some of those exceptions are certainly worth checking out. For me, the chapter on immigration - including some interesting comments on the superb The Lonely Londoners by the Trinidadian Samuel Selvon - is the undoubted highlight, doing a fabulous job of describing how writers from other countries described the immigrant experience. I also found the penultimate chapter on London in the 21st century, concentrating on the aftermath of 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings to be all too brief. That said, I found others rather less successful - 'London in the Victorian novel' was always going to be heavy on Dickens, but I felt that it gave too much space over to him at the expense of all but ignoring contemporaries such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Overall one that's definitely worth at least taking a look at if you have a particular interest in one of the specific topics covered, but not one I'd go out of my way to recommend otherwise.

London: The Illustrated History by Cathy Ross and John Clark is a superb book if you want to find out more about the capital, while for an excellent example of modern London literature Saturday by Ian McEwan comes highly recommended.

Buy The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of London by Laurence Manley (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of London by Laurence Manley (editor) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of London by Laurence Manley (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of London by Laurence Manley (editor) at Amazon.com.


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