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Pies and Prejudice: In search of the North Paperback – 7 Feb 2008
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"Stuart Maconie is the best thing to come out of Wigan since the A58 to Bolton" (Peter Kay)
"An heir to Alan Bennett ... stirring and rather wonderful" (Anthony Quinn Sunday Times)
"Funnier than Bill Bryson. There's lots to love about Maconie's North - even for Southern Jessies" (Metro)
"Maconie makes a jovial, self-deprecating narrator. Sharp and funny" (Guardian)
"A lyrical, passionate, humorous and argumentative tour du force ... Imagine Nick Danzinger meets Nik Cohen meets Ricky Tomlinson and you've got the perfect blend of humorously incisive northern-travel writing. An early contender for best travel book of the year." (Big Issue North)
A hilarious journey in search of the real North, northerners and northernness, from the bestselling author of Cider With RoadiesSee all Product description
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The first few paragraphs were intriguing, giving a description of the moments when the author realises that he has become a southerner. There is, however, a fairly lengthy buildup to get to the North - in the Prologue the author explains why he has written the book and in the first chapter he talks about the South, dismissing many of the towns based on his experience which could turn off some readers and stop them going any further. In the next chapter he starts to muse about where the North actually starts and so the book begins properly.
The book was first published in 2007 and much has happened since then which makes the narrative feel very out of date at times - for example he comments that libraries are holding their own but after the economic slow down in 2008 and subsequent cuts this is not necessarily true now. Other examples include various references to Jimmy Saville, Fred Talbot and Stuart Hall.
As any good travel book should be this is packed with interesting facts - did you know that the first Ikea was in Warrington? There are also many experiences that are easy to relate to - the author walks through the Cultural Area in Warrington without realising it, something I did recently in Northampton.
There are many light, humorous sections alongside some more thought provoking material - consider Boris Johnson's article about Liverpudlians, expressing his view that they see themselves as victims. I found that the Liverpool section made me smile - "It's hard to hear the ferry related information above the mournful howling of the wind" and "two cathedrals, a Protestant one designed by a Catholic and a Catholic one designed by a Protestant".
Nostalgia fills every page and the author is very proud of his roots which is lovely to read.
Some things sit uncomfortably though - the author criticises a fellow author for entitling a book "Up North", saying it is sarcastic and dismissive with its unfair generalisations, however if you look back to the first couple of chapters of this book and you'll see that Stuart Maconie has done this with much of the South.
Descriptions of the mill towns were true and evocative and he tells it reight about t'bloody Tories an' all. Great book for quoting to any relatives you might have living down south, bless them.
'Pies and Prejudice' by contrast can be disappointingly petty and unnecessarily snarky about, well, anywhere that isn't Wigan. It's a misnomer to say the book is about 'the North' when so much of it is concentrated on Manchester and its surrounding towns. It may be too much to expect a Lancastrian to gush too much about Yorkshire but it's a hell of a large county to dismiss as a mire of miserliness and introverted thinking but Northumbria is virtually limited to a discussion about Newcastle's hellish nightlife and the bridges over the Tyne. Cumbria is only defined by the pleasures of walking in the national park or the bleak horrors of its west coast towns.
Amazingly, the north's relationship to Scotland is barely discernible, such is Maconie's bias against all things south / London he fails to recognize that the residents of Carlisle, for example, are far more effected culturally and economically by Glasgow and Edinburgh than they ever are by London.
Indeed, the constant melding of the whole of southern Britain with London, as if they were one and the same, is both lazy and grossly untrue. His view of the capital is again, rather one dimensional - it's not all like Kensington and Islington and I think the residents of Redruth, Wisbech and Solihull feel just as disenfranchised from London as do the people of Huddersfield, Wigton and Wearmouth.
If he'd called something like 'My North' then the whole book would be a lot more comfortable to read, but calling it 'In Search Of The North' and then only bothering with a few pubs in a few towns does a great disservice to half of the country.
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