From Publishers Weekly
This latest entry in National Geographics series of famous writers on famous cities is like the British dish bubble and squeak: a hash of thrown together bits and pieces that might be tasty but isnt very filling. An avid reader, Quindlen (Living Out Loud, etc.) developed an acute case of literature-induced Anglophilia at an early age. As a precocious youngster, she was enchanted by the terrace houses, green squares and horse-drawn carriages of the written worlds of Daniel Defoe, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens and Henry Jamess London. Later swept away by Virginia Woolf and the Mitford sisters, Quindlen doesnt actually visit London until her mid-40s while on a trip to promote one of her own books. Quindlens narrative essays, while thematic, lack enough specific locations to make them consistently interesting. While she comments on the extraordinary fact that one can still find ones way around London based on 18th-century literary plot points, she doesnt take explicit literary tours herself, leaving readers to wonder to what extent the expectations of a lifelong love affair with the London of her mental library are met. Instead, Quindlen shifts the focus away from herself and toward her experience of traveling with her 20-something writer son, comparing and contrasting their generational impressions of the city. Map not seen by PW.
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Best-selling novelist and Newsweek columnist Quindlen has always been an "indefatigable" reader, and British novels set in London, "indisputably the capital of literature," have been a particular passion. Quindlen acquired a vivid impression of the city from absorbing Dickens, Eliot, Galsworthy, Doyle, Woolf, and Lessing, writers for whom London was as much a living character as their indelible protagonists. But she admits she was reluctant to travel there and obliterate the imagined with the actual. Finally, a book tour sends her to this fabled place, and she does revel in London's evocative complexity as she undertakes pilgrimages to literary landmarks. Deftly contrasting "the London frozen in the amber of great fiction" with today's city, Quindlen discerns the key lesson of English literature: the "unvarying nature both of social problems and personal dramas." The continuity that links, for instance, characters and predicaments in Monica Ali's Brick Lane (2003) to those in Dickens' works. A consistently enlightening and enjoyable writer, Quindlen presents a smart, bookish, wry, and stimulating portrait of the most literary of cities. Donna Seaman
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