If you’re indoors in Clapham during lockdown or out in the sunshine, there are good, locally set books to lose yourself in. Clapham and Clapham Common in particular seems to attract writers. Here are half a dozen books to be getting your teeth into.
Most famously, Clapham Common is the setting for Graham Greene’s WWII novel The End of the Affair (1951), a story of love, friendship and betrayal. Greene lived at 14, Clapham Common Northside which is still there today. It was bombed during Blitz and he included that experience in another war-time novel The Ministry of Fear (1943). Both books were made into films, the former on two occasions and gained Oscar nominations.
But Greene isn’t the only modern author to conjure up the open spaces of the Common. In his Booker Prize short-listed Atonement (2001) Ian McEwan had his heroine Cecilia and her nemesis Briony both live in or around Clapham during WWII, particularly around Clapham South, where both characters train to be nurses.
3 THE NEW MRS CLIFTON
Elizabeth Buchan’s The New Mrs Clifton (2017) is a more recent take on Clapham in the years immediately after the end of WWII, the aftermath of continued rationing and shortages, the blighted lives and petty revenges all wrapped up in an intriguing mystery and romance. Elizabeth is a co-founder of the Clapham Book Festival.
John Lanchester’s Capital (2012) is set almost wholly in Clapham just before the financial crisis of 2008, on the fictional Pepys Road, so named because during the later years of his life Samuel Pepys lived and died in Clapham. Characters regularly run, walk, sit and meet on the Common and it’s so acutely observed readers may think they recognise pretty much everywhere in it. Pepys Road could be so many of the roads around the Common, even down to the corner shop and the ever patrolling traffic wardens. Unsurprisingly, Lanchester and his wife, M.J.Carter, are residents of Clapham. Miranda, the author of the Blake and Avery novels, took part in the 2016 Clapham Book Festival.
5 THE ORPHANS
More recently Anne-Marie Neary set The Orphans (2017) in part on Clapham Common. The novel follows the fortunes of two, very different, siblings as they run from or face the trauma of their childhood abandonment. Anne-Marie, who appeared at the 2017 Book Festival, is a Clapham resident and her heroine lives in one of the roads on the Common. It is in the wide open spaces, the cafe and the copses that the exciting denouement of the novel takes place.
If it’s excitement and mystery there’s the bang up to date and very topical Plague by Julie Anderson (Claret Press, 2020). The central character lives in Clapham, near the Common, but the events of the novel happen across contemporary London, from Mayfair to Elephant & Castle. The second victim is found at an old tube depot in Lambeth, but has links to Westminster and Parliament. Begun in 2018, the writer found elements of the plot playing out in real life and featuring in the news in 2020. A preview of Plague can be found in Art of Lockdown round-up. Julie is a co-founder of Clapham Book Festival.