Are there any books called ‘The South’? Well even if there were, they wouldn’t be much cop, and I’m sure Paul Morley wouldn’t think so either. ‘The North’ is an amorphous concept in many ways, but people who live there definitely know they are Northerners and on the whole are proud of it. Paul Morley writes from the point of view of being an adopted and somehow self-selecting Northerner, and this does give him a rather idiosyncratic view. I must say that this was one of those rare books which I put on one side from time to time, not because I didn’t want to read it but because I did. I wanted to extend the reading period. Having now read a few reviews of the book, I’m absolutely amazed that a lot of them don’t ‘get it’. Yes sometimes the stream of consciousness stuff can be annoying, and it is rather weird to keep showing the history backwards, but for someone like me the book really is a mine of pleasure. Descriptions of The North, history, sharp commentary, and much else besides are mixed with personal reminiscence of being brought up in The North, and you do feel you are getting to know Paul Morley quite intimately whether you want to or not. I do. What he writes resonates. As well as the sheer lyricism and pleasure, I learned an awful lot about a North I thought I knew very well. A lot of the stuff he admits he drags up from the Internet, verbatim I should think, and I’m sure in places no rigorous research has taken place. Does that concern me? In a History book, of course. In a book about what The North is, and is like, No. More than 500 pages which I shall read again. If you’re from The North…highly recommended. If, as I suspect many of the reviewers, from ‘The South’, perhaps give it a miss.
Magisterial, a triumph, a great achievement, chilling epic-size history…just some of the terms used by respected reviewers. From my point of view the best bit about this book was the fact that Ian Kershaw reviewed the drafts with a friend in a pub I used to use in Didsbury Manchester. Frankly I was rather disappointed. Yes it is deeply researched, yes Ian Kershaw has examined much archive material which has never been used before, yes it is a respectable History of Europe between 1914 ad 1949. But because of its scope, because of Ian’s depth of knowledge, it constantly takes the form of…..this was the situation in the UK, this in France, this in Bulgaria, this in Yugoslavia….you lose the over-arching critique in the detail. And it isn’t a good read. I did study History, still do, but I like an author to immerse me in the times, to make me want to find out more. Sorry, not for me. But the Royal Oak is a good pub.
Paris 1585. The Tudor period we all love, but location for this book elsewhere, and therefore fresh as daisies. That’s what I wanted from this novel, an adventure giving me a different take on something all too familiar, and so well done in countless histories and novels ( I do like Wolf Hall…). But although the period is evoked (as it should be by someone who studied it for research purposes), the ‘adventure’ is dry as dust, not at all engrossing, and I felt most unusually that although I got half-way through I could read it no longer. I have therefore abandoned it. There is nothing wrong with ‘light’ history (one of my customers was one of the leading Tudor Historians, and he liked nothing better than a good novel set in Tudor times…), but it has to be good.
Secret Beaches South West…’explore the secluded shores of Southwest England’ Well, we are doing and I will report back. This book, and more like it, are designed to make our task easier, but in the meantime a joy to have and to dip into, and yes to imagine that the sun will shine tomorrow and we will take a picnic to that beach.