Tuesday 8 November 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie

11/22: Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North by Stuart Maconie

The blurb: A Northerner in exile, Stuart Maconie goes on a journey in search of the North, attempting to discover where the clich├ęs end and the truth begins. He travels from Wigan Pier to Blackpool Tower and Newcastle's Bigg Market to the Lake District to find his own Northern Soul, encountering along the way an exotic cast of chippy Scousers, pie-eating woollybacks, topless Geordies, mad-for-it Mancs, Yorkshire nationalists and brothers in southern exile.

The bestselling Pies and Prejudice is a hugely enjoyable journey around the north of England.

The review: Of all the many books I've read in recent years, one I've felt most connected to is The Nanny State Made Me, Maconie's paean to the public sector - I wrote about it last year. Add to that Maconie's relaxed, conversational style and my predisposition towards him based on his 6 Music output, and I was ready to enjoy this book. And I did ... just not as much as I had hoped and expected. Let me explain why.

All the Maconie staples are here - the aforementioned conversational tone, the anecdotes, the great dollops of nostalgic recollection and the occasional light dusting of political opinion. And the subject matter - essentially an Englishman abroad, if abroad means everywhere north of the Watford Gap (which, as it turns out, is not where you might think) - is a rich vein for Maconie to mine. The book is successful on many levels, mostly making me want to visit places I haven't been and love places I already love even more. And isn't that the primary aim of this kind of book. Oh, and I even learnt stuff too, always a bonus.

So what's the problem?

Well, it's this. At times Pies and Prejudice feels like a history book. It was only written in 2006 but, given the many social and political upheavals there have been since then, it feels like not just the North but the UK of then was a different country. A better country, for that matter. And this feeling increasingly coloured my enjoyment of the book. That's not Maconie's fault, of course - he couldn't have foreseen the spectacular nosedive pretty much everything in the UK has taken since then, no-one could. But it is a fact for a reader in 2022 - this reader, at least. At one point, Maconie quotes an article a certain B. Johnson wrote in The Spectator, and dismisses it as damaging, inflammatory and ultimately ignorant fluff written by an entitled Southern buffoon. All of which is true, of course, but it made me grind my teeth to read it; I had to set the book aside for a bit, and wonder how we had let things to come to this. Where did it all go wrong?

I'm conscious this isn't much of a review, so I will add that Maconie's prose keeps the pages turning, the subject matter is genuinely interesting, and it's all told in an engaging, often humourous style. It's just that it made me think it should be subtitled "In Search of Albion" instead.

The bottom line: another well-pitched domestic travelogue from Maconie, but feels like a historical document now.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★☆☆

12 comments:

  1. I enjoy Stuart Maconie's conversational writing style. Of all his books this is possibly the most engrossing.
    The Pie At Night: In Search of the North at Play is another worth a look
    (indeed all his work is worth the time)

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  2. I have not read either of the books but like you I think I would be rightly angry at the cultural and economic vandalism foisted upon us by a bunch of right wing spivs and charlatans on the take.No wonder Scotland wants no part of it.

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    1. Indeed, if I was Scottish I think I'd want out (and back into the EU too).

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    2. CC, I wish I were Scottish. It feels embarrassing and shameful to be English.

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  3. Such an interesting observation/point about how much has changed in what seems a relatively short space of time and the effect on you reading it... I can understand how and why it brought the mood down. There's a copy of this book on the shelf here and yet I've never read it (Mr SDS did years ago). I wonder if I should now, or will it depress me too much?! Not Maconie's fault, as you say, but it's where we are.

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    1. Oh, I'd recommend reading it, it is good. I think it needs to be combined with my negative mindset to have a depressing effect.

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  4. I read this when it came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. As you say, it'd probably just make me cry now.

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    1. It hasn't taken long for England's wheels to come off, has it?

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  5. I like his writing style. I think you'll like Pete Brown's books: Clubland and Pie Fidelity in particular. Give 'em a spin - you'll be glad you did!

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    1. These are new to me, will investigate, cheers.

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