Because I didn’t get to go. Last year, right around this time, I was preparing to leave the US for the first time ever. In my life, I’ve only gotten on a plane a handful of times, and, up until a couple years ago, all of those times had been to FL. Whether it was to Disney as a child or to visit my grandparents as a preteen, it was probably only a handful of times in total. My best friend, Jen, has been trying to get me to travel internationally for years. Years and years and years. It’s always been too expensive for me, but, finally, I was coming to a place where I had a full-time job that was paying well, I was still living at home, and thus not paying rent, and I was ready. A year prior to our adventure, I flew out to California to visit her, and so I wouldn’t be getting on a plane for the first time in 12 years to fly internationally.
And then, the pandemic struck. Not gonna lie, my birthday last year was awful. I had to cancel my UK trip, Boston Ballet closed its doors for the season, and we decided it wasn’t a good idea to go for a massage. I couldn’t schedule a high tea to make up for the one I was missing in London because my favorite tea shop was also closing its doors, and my yoga studio was about to go virtual. It was pretty awful, and though I’m making the best of things this year–we’re having a tea party, and not only did I buy a gorgeous dress, we got fancy lace white gloves–I’m still sad that I was never able to travel. Thus, today we’re talking about ten books that are set in the UK!
This list was surprisingly hard to put together, and there are a couple on here that I haven’t read because I was struggling coming up with ten, and I only just managed to squeak by with ten in total.
I didn’t actually know that Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was set in England, just that Andrew Garfield was full British in the movie, so I assumed that might be the case? This is one of the few books where I prefer the movie, and not just for Andrew Garfield, though that does definitely play a large part. The way that they portrayed some of the scenes felt so much more poignant in the movie, and I will never get over that baby pillow scene. This is a heartbreaking story, though, and it’s forever made me want to read more by Ishiguro–even though it’s been years, and I still haven’t, whoops!
Perhaps, by the time this posts, I will have read The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar? It’s on my women’s history month TBR, and the fact that it’s set in Ireland makes me want to read it even more. I honestly had no idea that it even was set in Ireland until I saw it featured on Elaine Howlin’s TBR for the Irish Readathon this year. (Also, if you want gorgeous reading vlogs and fun crafts & recipes, give Elaine a follow!) Now, I’m even more stoked to read this book, so hopefully I’ll be able to get to it soon!
I’m pretty sure I’ve read a solid portion of The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, but I can’t remember if it was this one or her other one. Whichever one it was, I never finished it. They were both assigned for a college fiction course, but we didn’t have to finish it, so I didn’t? It blows my mind now, especially because I know that I enjoyed it. I’ve kept both of Livesey’s books that I bought back then because I wanted to reread them someday, and now, as I’m looking back on this summary of an Icelandic girl who ends up on the Scottish isles through a whole lot of terrible circumstances that’s meant to echo Jane Eyre sounds like something I’d really like.
The first book I thought of for this list was Atonement by Ian McEwan, which I know sounds crazy given the book directly after it, but when I think books set in the UK, I immediately go back to the tragic love story of Cecilia & Robbie. This book took me literal years to read because I just loved the first half so much that I never wanted it to end, and I read the second half over the course of–wow, holy shit, six years. That’s insane. This is one of my favorite movies of all time, though, and I will forever love Keira Knightley in all period pieces ever.
I mean, of course Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is on this list, who do you think I am? Even though this mostly takes place in the US, some of the most heartbreaking scenes are definitely the ones in London. Gosh, and if this books isn’t even more prevalent right now. I want to reread it right now so bad, but my copy has wandered off to NY (I know where it is, and it’ll return to me eventually), and I can’t wait until I get it back to dive into this chaotic love story again.
Am I cheating by putting two David Mitchell books here? Yes, absolutely, but he’s the most British author I can think of. Truly, Black Swan Green is the most UK book I can think of, and that’s including whatever the hell James Joyce writes. I’ve written ad nauseam about Mitchell on the blog, including a full review of every single one of his books, so I’m just going to wave my psycho fan flag briefly and tell you that I LOVE THIS DAMN BOOK SO MUCH. It takes place in sleepy Worcestershire in the 80s, and it’s delightful.
Utopia Avenue was one of my most anticipated books of 2020, and holy hell did it live up to those high expectations. This book does sprawl across a few different countries, but it’s about a British punk rock band, and a lot of it takes places in England, so it’s fitting. It’s pretty normal, as far as Mitchell books go, until that one chapter that’ll confuse the hell out of anyone who’s not familiar with the overall story, and I would have loved it so much without that chapter, but that chapter had me screaming, and now I can’t wait for the next one even more.
Laura Taylor Namey’s A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is perhaps the most aesthetically British books out of all of these, and it’s adorable. It’s rife with sweaters, tea, scones, and strolling around the city. Given that it’s from a reluctant Floridian’s perspective, Cuban to her core, it’s hilarious to watch her slowly fall in love with the cooler weather and slower pace of England, and I’m definitely going to be rereading it someday soon.
I don’t actually know if Heartstopper by Alice Oseman takes place in England, or if we’ve just all assumed that because Oseman is British, and I have no idea if they ever say it in the story? Who knows, but it feels British, and I picture them with accents in my head, so that’s what I’m going with. And, oh my gosh, I cannot wait until the Netflix adaptation of this because I AM GOING TO DIE OF CUTE.
And, rounding out this mostly England crew is A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab because, no matter the magic, it takes place across four Londons, and that feels the most fitting out of all of these. Given how much magic I was going to experience in the UK, this one makes me the saddest, too, because we could have had it all, damn it! I love how much this doesn’t actually feel like London, either, (although this is coming from the perspective of someone who’s never been there) but like a place that should be real, but is so steeped in magic that it couldn’t possibly be. It’s a weird little combo, and now I want to reread it.