Bright Lights Big City
July 23, 2008 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Book recommendation: Looking for a modern novel that revels in the modern metropolis: its mass of strangers, dark pockets, finds beauty in filth and filth in beauty. Examples: Witchgrass by Raymond Queneau, Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerny, Paul Auster
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry.
posted by jayder at 3:46 PM on July 23, 2008

It's been awhile since I read it, but Kissing In Manhattan fits this perfectly.
posted by bananafish at 3:47 PM on July 23, 2008

Also, the Dive from Clausen's Pier in which the main character moves from Wisconsion to New York, where she meets all sorts of interesting characters.
posted by bananafish at 3:50 PM on July 23, 2008

Last Exit to Brooklyn by hubert shelby
posted by plexi at 3:53 PM on July 23, 2008

I want to second Shelby (and yes, read Last Exit first) get Requiem For a Dream...its not like the movie too much, as in most things the book is far more jacked.

Also, try Choke by Chuck Palahniuk, whose own story is surreal in and of itself...
posted by TeachTheDead at 4:00 PM on July 23, 2008

Mother London by Michael Moorcock is very good.
posted by WPW at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2008

After Dark by Haruki Murakami
posted by millipede at 4:09 PM on July 23, 2008

It's actually Hubert Selby.
Seconding Moorcock and Murakami.
posted by Francis7 at 4:10 PM on July 23, 2008

A lot of people seem to like Shantaram (found in a previous AskMeFi thread), although I haven't read it yet.
posted by sharkfu at 4:26 PM on July 23, 2008

King Rat by China Mieville?
posted by Zarkonnen at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2008

Even more so, Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council by China Mieville.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:50 PM on July 23, 2008

I would definitely second Perdido Street Station - fantasy, but a brilliant evocation of a sprawling, seething, fetid city.
posted by WPW at 4:56 PM on July 23, 2008

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
posted by mattholomew at 5:07 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ulysses, of course.
posted by OmieWise at 6:32 PM on July 23, 2008

Celine: Death on the Instalment Plan

And since you mentioned Queneau, what about Perec, eg Life - a User's Manual?

Also on the Queneau tip, you might like to look up anything by Daniel Pennac - lighthearted twists on detective stories, set in the gritty Parisian suburb of Belleville.

JP Donleavy: A Fairytale of New York also has some of the dark humour of Witchgrass.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:05 PM on July 23, 2008

Bonfire of the Vanities, of course.
posted by bananafish at 10:15 PM on July 23, 2008

Eduardo Mendoza, La ciudad de los Prodigios, translated into English as The City of Marvels, is a great novel of and about citybuilding.
posted by kandinski at 10:43 PM on July 23, 2008

I enjoyed City of God by E. L. Doctorow, which is, amongst other things, "an ongoing rumination of city life".

Although not set in a modern city, Doctorow's earlier book, Waterworks, based in the New York of the 1870s might be worth a look - it certainly revels in the huddled mass of strangers. As amaxon puts it: "such is the power of Doctorow's imagination that the very city itself, its burgeoning modernity, its huge machines, its febrile citizenry, seems to become a major actor in the drama."

Also seconding Mother London, which is extraordinarily good but can be hard work.
posted by patricio at 1:37 AM on July 24, 2008

Two recent speculative fiction novels that reveal in their metropolitan settings - New York and London, respectively - are Spaceman Blues and The Red Men.
posted by ninebelow at 7:41 AM on July 24, 2008

For London:Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton and the trilogy of novels by Ian Sinclair: White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings; Down River and Radon's Daughter.
posted by tallus at 7:53 AM on July 24, 2008

Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games is as much about Mumbai as it is about its characters.
posted by Kattullus at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2008

City of Saints and Madmen, if you like weird gothic puzzle-like stories that alter their own premises from time to time.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:37 PM on July 27, 2008

Seconding Sacred Games, and the short story collection Love and Longing in Bombay, in which the main character first appeared. If any city has "beauty in filth and filth in beauty," it's Bombay. Shantaram is a fun read, but Chandra's Bombay is so much richer, detailed in such loving fullness, rich and poor, gangsters and cops, slums and filmi stars.
posted by bookish at 12:07 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

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