It’s book time! I’ve written about books to read on a European city break, which I got great feedback on and today I want to share my list of the best books set in Brighton. I hope you enjoy them.
Best Brighton Books
The following is a list of some of my favourite Brighton books, rather than an overarching guide. Whether they’re set in Brighton, reveal secrets of the city’s past or present, or just relate to Brighton in some way, they’ve contributed to my love of this curious seaside city. Enjoy!
1 Here We are
Graham Swift’s Here We Are is about a seaside variety show act – The Great Pablo and Eve – who, alongside comedian compere, Jack Robinson, perform on Brighton Pier in summer 1959. Ronnie Dean, also known as the Great Pablo, performs a disappearing act in real life after his lover and assistant, Evie White, is unfaithful to him. It’s told retrospectively by Evie in a dreamlike style which gives the book a magical quality. Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
2 My Policeman
I’m embarrassed to admit I only learned about Bethan Roberts’ book, My Policeman, when singer/actor, Harry Styles was spotted filming scenes for the upcoming film version around town. It’s a beautifully written and powerful story set in 1950s Brighton that explores the realities of being gay at this time. It dips and dives around so many familiar Brighton places making it as fun to follow the journey as it is the story. You can buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
3 Pride and Prejudice
I read this Jane Austen classic love story at school but had no idea it featured Brighton until someone told me recently. Needless to say I reread it. She captures the spirit of Regency Brighton as a city of self-indulgent pleasure, by using it as the setting for the part of the story in which Lydia Bennet flirts with military officers encamped on the edge of town, before eloping with Mr Wickham. You can buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
4 Vanity Fair
William Thackeray’s satirical classic, Vanity Fair, is set during the early 1900s at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Brighton features as the setting for George and Amelia’s honeymoon in Brighton at the Old Ship Hotel. George describes Brighton as: “…a clean Naples with genteel lazzaroni – for Brighton, that always looks brisk, gay, and gaudy, like a harlequin’s jacket”. Thackeray is also said to have stayed at the Old Ship Hotel where wrote some of the novel. Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
5 Indian Summer
In the seventh in the series, Mirabelle Bevans – “Brighton’s answer to Miss Marple but with an edge” – ends up tangled up in a spate of brutal killings at a seaside sanatorium. I absolutely love a murder mystery/thriller, especially if the lead detective is female – think Charlie’s Angels, Jessica Fletcher, Kinsey Milhone – so I was excited to discover this series not only with a female detective but also set in Brighton in the 1950s! Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
6 The Brighton Mermaid
Another page-turner of a thriller set in Brighton, full of twists and turns and references to familiar settings in the city. It’s about two teenagers, Nell and Jude, who find the body of a young woman who becomes known as the Brighton Mermaid. Three weeks later Jude disappears and despite trying to move on, 25 years on, Nell is forced to quit her job to find out who the Brighton Mermaid really was – and what happened to her best friend. Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
7 The Snowman
If there’s one book I’ve loved since childhood, it’s The Snowman. It tells the story of a boy whose friendly snowman comes to life and takes him flying, over a magical version of Brighton, past the Royal Pavilion and the (still intact) West Pier on the way to meet Father Christmas. Buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
8 George the Pavilion cat
Another beautifully illustrated children’s book, which tells the story of a cat who one day in 1965 strolled on into the Royal Pavilion and stayed there until he died. You can spot his gravestone on a visit to this secret garden in Brighton home to a Victorian pet cemetery. You can buy it on Amazon or from the Brighton Museum shop.
9 Secret Brighton: An unusual guide!
Once you know the Brighton ropes and have found all the main sights, on a more local level, Secret Brighton is great for discovering under-the-radar Brighton, and digging deeper into the city’s history. You can buy it on Amazon, Bookshop or from my Gift Shop.
If there is one book I could not put down set in wartime Brighton, it is Alison Macleod’s Unexploded which I read in a day on a recent camping trip. It centres around a young family, Geoffrey and Evelyn Beaumont and their eight-year-old son who live on Park Crescent at a time when Operation Sea Lion – Hitler’s plan to wipe out the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy- was imminement. It’s fast-paced, engaging, and although tense, its 1940s setting is refreshing backdrop. You can buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
11 The Death of Bunny Munro
A list of best Brighton books wouldn’t be complete without one by Nick Cave, the Australian singer-songwriter who lives on Sussex Square in Kemp Town (I know this as I’ve seen him sitting on his balcony). He’s written a few but I was drawn to this one by the blurb: tells the tale of a ‘drug-addled, booze-addicted, sexually incontinent anti-hero’ who drives around Brighton (and Hove) in his Fiat Punto, selling beauty products.’ The writing is punchy and gripping even if the subject matter is grim, and it’s fun to read about familiar places in the city. You can buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.
Books set in Brighton
There are so many more books set in Brighton but these are just a few of the ones I’ve read. I hope my list has helped you find something for your taste.
Do you have a book set in or about Brighton to recommend? I’d love to know!