Another slow-burn Brunetti novel whose main elements are the setting – Venice, and Brunetti himself and his relationships with colleagues and family. The plot or plots take second place. A corrupt pharmacist, an entangled female doctor, and possible murder – all a bit humdrum. But how I like following Brunetti around Venice and seeing how his personal ups and downs work out. Quite a lot of philosophy in this one too, and moral dilemmas to make us think. And at the end of it all not a happy ending. I just love it…..Donna Leon is an excellent writer and certainly gets right beneath the skin of Italy and Italians, allowing us to understand things like the North-South divide, the irritation at tourists, and much else.
Now, we are off to Manchester for 5 days (it’s where I come from), to see whether this might be a place for our next house. Cornwall v Manchester – sounds like there is only one winner, but I’m not so sure. What Manchester has got (apart from some rain…..actually less rain than Plymouth over the year), is culture….restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatre, music, museums, football (ManCity my team is the best in the world right now according to some authorities, and probably the best that there has been in the Premier League era), and loads of visible and easily accessible History. We were last up there for the Commonwealth Games and it had much improved from my youth. My thinking is that it will have improved another several notches, from what I read. Anyhow, as always, before going anywhere I have done lots of research and dug out three or four books in particular. Charles Nevin’s ‘Lancashire’ is the pick of the bunch, a book that I simply couldn’t put down despite having read it at least twice before. It is so so funny, so enlightening, so full of mischief, and gets right to the heart of what it means to be a Lancastrian. And, for me, it is so nostalgic. Nevin talks of places I know, football line-ups which take me back 50 years, and big names of Rugby League I had forgotten all about but which I can picture in full 3D colour or should that be Black and White. But don’t let that put you off. Nevin is everywhere – from listening in to old ladies on the bus, to discussing Shakespeare’s Lancashire period with eminent historians, to some of the higher reaches of philosophy, taking us on a journey at break-neck speed through everything Lancashire. Have you heard of Donizetti’s opera ‘Emilia Di Liverpool’? No neither had I! Think Southport has a touch of Paris about it – particularly in the tree-lined Lord Street? Think again. Haussmann modelled his new Paris on Southport (probably). Why, Balzac of all people has a character in his ‘Le Lys Dans La Valle’ tell her seducer that Lancashire is ‘the county where women die of love’!! Thus the subtitle of this splendid book. I could go on, almost indefinitely, about why Lancashire is the best place to live, and Nevin certainly does go on, but let me leave you with this quote from Abraham Lincoln – talking of the Lancashire cotton workers’ solidarity with his North in the Civil War, and support for the abolition of slavery, whilst most of them were absolutely destitute – because of this support (cotton could no longer be got from the South to keep the mills running)….Lincoln called this ‘an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country’. Well!! I am proud.
On now to my factual books each telling me about Manchester in very different ways. The modern Pevsner’s architectural guides are usually rather good, and in fact in my opinion a lot better than the originals which, although a massive and unparalleled achievement, are dry as dust. ‘Manchester’ by Clare Hartwell is much more contemporary. It discusses all the major buildings in Manchester at the date of publication. As this was 2002 it shows the real drawback of this type of book…..so much has happened since which isn’t covered. Still, an excellent introduction.
‘Manchester Compendium’ is different again. It is basically a street-by-street history of the city. So we are taken on walks through the centre and its most important suburbs. And interesting walks they are too. Glinert is a great guide. All human life is here, as the old News of the World used to say. Everything from the history of the buildings themselves, the people, their culture, it is a real mish-mash of often quirky stuff which is very engaging indeed. I learned a lot about my city that I didn’t know.
‘Manchester The Hidden History’ is a more conventional history but based mainly on the more recent archaeological surveys. and with all the new building that has been going on in the last 30 or so years there have been more than a few of those. More for the serious historian (as I sometimes imagine myself!). Can’t wait to get there.