64. London Belongs to Me, Norman Collins (1945)

OK, I’m cheating here, because I’ve just finished reading this and it’s been washed into the Top 100 on a tidal wave of enthusiasm. London Belongs to Me is exactly the sort of novel that I dream about discovering, and so rarely do. It’s a big busy book about the residents of a south London boarding house during the Second World War, and it’s written in an elegant, conversational tone that disguises the superb craftsmanship of the narrative. Collins (a hugely successful author who went on to become one of the most important post-War TV executives) handles his large, diverse cast with a juggler’s skill, and manages to juxtapose sentiment, comedy and hard-boiled action without ever striking a false note. There’s a camp old retired actress living upstairs, a phony Spiritualist medium in the basement and all human life in between. They eat disgusting food, smoke a lot of fags and trundle around streets that we are still familiar with. The fact that it’s set in Kennington, just down the road from my house, makes it a special joy. Oddly, the introduction to the Penguin reissue goes to great lengths to tell us that London Belongs to Me is a second-rate novel, ‘just a soap opera’ etc, which is absolute bollocks. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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2 Comments

Filed under My top 100 novels

2 responses to “64. London Belongs to Me, Norman Collins (1945)

  1. David Benedict

    I love this too but secretly agree that it’s B-list. But it’s absolutely at the top of the B-list which, as George Orwell pointed out, is a FAR better place to be than at the bottom of the A-list. Who would want to have written a failed great book?

  2. I’m very aware that my critical criteria are changing at the moment, which is why doing this list is instructive. I rank ‘reading experience’ much higher than I used to – by which I mean the delight that I, personally, gain from a book. And in that respect LBTM gets 100%.

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