BEN MCGARR - University Challenger, Russian translator and now full time writer has produced a book which collates a broad mix of subjects all centred around the city of Manchester.
The book, entitled ‘Not a Guide to Manchester’, is an odd publication, straddling two divergent categories: the guidebook and the historical interest book. It is neither useful enough to function as an aid to tourists nor expansive enough to pique the interest of deep Manchester enthusiasts. This is a problem.
The book is largely pedestrian but is studded with revelatory passages and pieces of well researched and engrossing facts.
When McGarr covers literary figures of Manchester he reveals his intentions and the unrealised potential of the book. Rather than focussing on Gaskell or Burgess he targets Dr Dee and Thomas de Quincey which exemplifies his approach to relating the city of Manchester through the lesser known and the overlooked.
McGarr would rather reveal secret alleys and forgotten side streets than retread the same familiar ground. With Google Maps and Lonely Planet apps at everyone’s fingertips it is this kind of information that gives the book its spark. McGarr’s focus, however, wavers throughout the book.
The music section is shallow at best. This is understandable in a small book which aims to cover so much but in a short amount of words the author comes dangerously close to sounding out of touch.
In the music section’s closing paragraph on ‘recent bands that may stand the test of time’ he lists Elbow, one of Britain’s biggest bands whose ‘First Steps’ was the BBC’s official Olympic theme, alongside The Ting Tings.
Similarly when McGarr urges us to ‘relive the Hacienda days and dance the night away with students at Jabez Clegg’ his blind spots are exposed.
The ‘Distance From...’ section does what it says on the tin, providing a list of famous landmarks and cities and their distance from Manchester. It is pages like these which give the distinct sense that packing out the book with tourist friendly trivia became a challenge for McGarr. The difficult position he has voluntarily placed his book in means filler sections such as this.
The main problem of the book, as I touched upon earlier, is that it doesn’t know who it is for.
The odd historical facts and anecdotes are certainly entertaining but sections such as ‘A Day in the Life of Manchester’ which include “facts” such as ‘0100-0400: Takeaways rake in their nightly profits’ offer little of worth to tourists and even less to residents of Manchester, or any British city for that matter.
Although the book professes to not be a guide book it still falls into the usual pitfalls as the book is already starting to date. McGarr describes the new Green Quarter as ‘a formerly undesirable damp dip [that] has been colonised by chic new apartment blocks’; a moment of delicious irony considering the development’s flooding and security issues.
There are occasional revelatory passages and pieces of well researched and engrossing facts. The moments when the book surprises the reader with pearls of wisdom (like the fact that Rolls met Royce at the Midland Hotel) show that the author has the depth of knowledge and interest in the city to create a full size exploration of the quirks and character of Manchester.
Until then, if you’re looking for a book about Manchester, whether as a tourist or researcher, ‘Not a Guide to Manchester’ is not the non-guide for you.
For Mancunians it's an interesting stocking filler, or maybe a casual flick though while waiting for a haircut. For visitors it's an appetiser, no more, a taste of the city that you hope may make them want to indulge more.
Not a Guide to Manchester is published by The History Press and costs £5.99, although on Amazon presently it's £4.99.
I've always loved this building. Crazy it's been empty for so long when it's next to a major…Read more
Offering £12 tickets to people from Manchester earning below £14k doesn't make the MIF less…Read more
The issue is not that there is differential scale. But that last year there was full price band and…Read more
"Some scrubber on the dole"? Get a grip.Read more