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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide

A collection of novels to evoke the feel of the River Thames:

The Thames stretches from the beautiful Cotswolds to the heart of London and beyond, and as we have been researching the novels for TripFiction we have come across several books that hugely evoke the bustle and busyness, and the variety of life along the river; in our featured novels the river almost become a character in its own right. It has been such an important feature of life in the South of the England, since time immemorial, so much history, and so very essential to everyday life. Indeed it is the longest river in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. So it deserves a blogpost in its own right.

Tideline by Penny Hancock first sowed the seed for this idea, a gripping tale of life along the banks of central London, where the Thames itself grew to be a character in the novel.

Marie Claire puts it succinctly: "A clever, creepy thriller about misplaced affection and abduction, with a riverside location as an eerie backdrop"

Our next choice is Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd.

One May evening in London, as a result of a chance encounter and a split-second decision, the young climatologist Adam Kindred loses everything - home, job, reputation, passport, credit cards, money - never to get them back. With the police and a hit man in merciless pursuit, Adam has no choice but to go underground, joining the ranks of the disappeared, struggling to understand how his life has unravelled so spectacularly.

The Daily Mirror captures the feel of this novel'A storm of a story ... London has never looked so threatening' 

Downriver by Iain Sinclair is constructed as twelve interlocking narratives, in which Iain Sinclair traces the ruins of Margaret Thatcher's reign through the lens of a fictional film crew that has been hired to make a documentary about what's left of London's river life. The Thames may still flow through the heart of the capital, but life along its shores has changed dramatically. It is a savage, satirical quest to understand how people's lives, a government's policies and a legendary waterland conspire together in a boggling display of self-destruction.

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald is the winner of the 1979 Booker Prize. 

Offshore possesses perfect, very odd, pitch. In just over 130 pages of the wittiest and most melancholy prose, Penelope Fitzgerald illuminates the lives of "creatures neither of firm land nor water"--a group of barge-dwellers in London's Battersea Reach, circa 1961. 

'Fitzgerald is adept at evoking the atmosphere of late 1960's London with rich period detail' Elizabeth Day, Observer

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. From its famous dramatic opening on the bleak Kentish marshes, the story abounds with some of Dickens' most memorable characters. Among them are the kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery, the mysterious convict Abel Magwitch, the eccentric Miss Haversham and her beautiful ward Estella, Pip's good-hearted room-mate Herbert Pocket and the pompous Pumblechook. As Pip unravels the truth behind his own ‘great expectations’ in his quest to become a gentleman, the mysteries of the past and the convolutions of fate through a series of thrilling adventures serve to steer him towards maturity and his most important discovery of all - the truth about himself.

And it's over to Deptford with Penny Hancock's latest thriller The Darkening Hour 

A middle class woman at her wits' end. A struggling migrant worker with few options for survival. When tensions boil over, who will be the first to snap? Will it be Theodora, finally breaking under the pressure? Or Mona, desperate to find a way out? Two women. Two stories. Who do you believe?

And we will sign off with a couple of lines attribute to Shakespeare: "The River Thames, that by our door doth pass, His first beginning is but small and shallow: yet keeping on his course, grows to a sea."

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1923: Maps from "Father Thames" by Walter Higgins via

We have brought together only a few books that conjure up life along the Thames. Please add your suggestions in the Comments Box below!

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