Genre: Travel writing
Narrative Style: informal
Synopsis: Stuart Maconie is proud of being a northerner but it is a long time since he lived in the north. Exiled in the south for too long, he decides to return to his roots and investigate what is true and what is cliché about his birthplace.
Time on shelf: I bought this a couple of years from a charity shop. We certainly had it during lockdown because my husband made an attempt at reading it. He didn’t get very far before he put it back on the shelf. I really should have taken more notice.
I wouldn’t say I was a massive fan of Stuart Maconie but I always quite enjoy his 6radio show with Mark Radcliffe and I am Northern so I thought this might be an interesting read. And in someone else’s hands it might have been. As it was, it irritated me from the very start.
The book opens with Maconie describing a scene where he and an old friend (also Northern) were making Sunday brunch and they were looking for the sun-dried tomatoes and it turned out they were behind the cappuccino machine. They looked at each other and wondered what they had become. Maconie knows the answer to that: Southerners. I would like to give him a different answer: middle class people. Throughout this book, Maconie equates being Northern with being working class – an annoying stereotype that he seems quite happy to perpetuate. Don’t get me wrong, I know there was a lot of industry in the North and so obviously, there were a lot of workers but every city in the North has its share of moneyed people, just as every Southern city has working class people. To be fair, Maconie does talk about the revitalisation of cities such as Leeds and Manchester that have had a lot of money thrown at them – he mentions how journalists called Leeds ‘the Knightsbridge of the North’ when Harvey Nichols was opened there. But that isn’t what he was talking about in the opening which is about people and how they act. When Maconie comes to talk about Northerners with money, the main place he talks about is Cheshire which is barely in the North. It’s as if he couldn’t countenance anywhere further into the North having that sort of money. There are 28000 millionaires in Yorkshire but I guess that would have spoiled his impression of the cheeky, salt of the Earth, Northerner.
This book should really be called In Search of the North West because that is where Maconie spends most of his time. I understand that he is from Wigan and he loves the North West; that really does come across. However, the whole of Yorkshire and the whole of the North East get one chapter each which seems remiss when Blackpool got nearly a whole chapter to itself. (Incidentally, not all Northerners have been to Blackpool, holiday makers in Newcastle tended to go to Scarborough or Berwick, not somewhere on the other side of the country.) As a result, Durham and Newcastle get only a few pages each. Okay, so I am biased, being from Newcastle, but surely both of these cities deserved more.
Finally, it turns out that Maconie writes like he talks and it is really annoying. I guess having Radcliffe to bounce off on his radio show really takes the edge of how irritating he is. Throw in some needless name dropping and you have a book that I almost didn’t finish. It was only the fact the he deals with the North East (which he calls The Great North but only gives it one chapter) right at the end that kept me reading.