Book: The North (and almost everything in it) by Paul Morley (582 pages)
Published: 2014 (Paperback version)
Genre: Memoir, Historical Non-fiction
Period: Mostly late 1950s to early 1970s Stockport, North West England, but gives a brief history (mostly focusing on Manchester) from roughly the Romans to 1976.
The North (and almost everything in it) by Paul Morley is half memoir and half history book about the North of England. Morley takes his own personal story about growing up in Reddish, less than 5 miles away from Manchester, and interjects it with various social and cultural history of Northern England. As a northerner, the book intrigued me. I was curious to read more about the North, however, the book wasn’t as I expected. Morley focuses heavily on the Manchester area with sprinklings of facts from Yorkshire, Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland. This is understandable because to fit the entire history of the North in under 600 pages is a difficult feat but it does mean the title doesn’t quite fit and some may find disappointing. On the other hand, it’s not a terrible book and is a fairly enjoyable, interesting read.
Morley mostly focuses on the Manchester area because that’s where he spent a majority of his childhood. It would have been interesting to have a broader scope within the book (and admittedly this was what I was expecting with a title like The North (and almost everything in it). ) Another source of interest in the book is how Morley identifies with and views the North. Morley calls himself a northerner despite being born in Kent, where he lived for the first five years of his life. He also moved to London in the mid-seventies and has never left since and still identifies as a northerner. This showed that everyone has a different view of the north and what it means to be northern and that was interesting to read about. Morley’s writing is also very nostalgic. I think people who grew in the Manchester area in the mid-twentieth century would find it to be reminiscent and enjoy reading this book for this reason.
It is clear that Morley, clearly researched the book but my main issue with the book was
that it was very higgledy-piggledy throughout the book. Morley would start on one topic but then veer off topic and proceed to tell you everything he knew about the new topic and then maybe move on to another topic without a clear link. Eventually, he would return back to the original, however, because it had been so long, I struggled to remember his original point. Morley wanted the reader to know everything he knew, unfortunately, it did seem like it was a huge information dump at times.
The photographs used in the book were placed in an illogical order. It was as if Morley had worn a blindfold and placed the photographs between pages randomly hoping for the best. For example, on pages 196- 197, Morley wrote about Mrs Elizabeth Raffald (acclaimed creator of the Eccles cake) and her successful cookery book published 1769, but the picture chosen is an image of Fred Perry, who won Wimbledon in 1928. Morley does talk about Fred Perry further in the book but his description starts on page 467.
Morley presented the social and cultural history in a unique way. Working back from 1976 and finishing in 1515, he presented key dates and events (ranging from births of famous people to inventions and visitations and everything in between). I really enjoyed this aspect because it meant you could see how things progressed and changed. It was absolutely fascinating. However, one thing I found rather confusing to why the dates were chosen and frustrating that he never explains his choice.
Although frustrating to read at times, Morley can write well and has a strangely hypnotic tone. I found myself repeatedly returning to read the book time and time again. Unfortunately, I didn’t take away too much away from the book but it was a relaxing read (at times) as it reminded me how complex and exciting the North is. The book is most suitable for those who are from the Manchester area in the mid-twentieth century, or those who have a vague interest in reading about other people’s lives (if you’re nosey like me). As a history book, it is not the strongest example but it is a good starting point. Because Morley covers a lot of topics, it can inspire new interests for a whole variety of different people. All in all, this book is fairly interesting to read and it is quite easy to keep returning back to. It gains the overall rating of 6/10.