Manchester in recent fiction

Manchester continues to feature as a main character in fiction of the 21st Century

Manchester has a history of books and libraries. Chetham’s Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, holds the original manuscript of ‘The Manchester Man’ by Mrs G Linneaus Banks. The tale of the fictional Jabez Clegg takes us through the streets (and rivers) of a town growing into a city – giving us a sense of the layout and feel of 19th Century Manchester.

But the city continues to be the scene for recent novels, which can transport you to our streets, even if you can’t currently physically visit. Enjoy exploring the city in these pages (links below).

The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox

The second tale of detective Aidan Waits moves away from the drizzly Manchester noir of the first, depicting instead sun bouncing off pavements and buildings, and melting Mancs. Knox evokes the lethargy and sleeplessness of summer in the city, too often a Manchester neglected in print in favour of the lazier myth of continual rain. The action criss-crosses the centre and beyond, in pursuit of a murderer, taking us to pubs, bars, and apartments – squeezing into The Temple must surely help escape the heat. Manchester’s grand hotels The Midland and The Palace (now The Kimpton Clocktower), play key plot roles and ground the action in the city we know.

Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

'Sometimes, Manchester city centre felt like a steamed-up bus.'

This short story collection weaves Manchester and Uganda, and so for this reader is an engaging mix of the familiar and the unknown.

‘Kampala city centre feels like a toddler learning to walk… Manchester was middle-aged.’

Manchester Airport is seen through the eyes of security workers, but also features in a story told by a stow-away dog. Adapting from Ugandan pariah dog to Manchester pet, his is a migrant tale of the shock of different smells, sounds, food, and activities.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Set in the city, this tale of a faked social media romance between lawyers avoids feeling stale through developed characters but also action across the city. The plot needs the bars and restaurants of the city centre as the Places To Be Seen in staged photos. The Ivy, Cloud 23, The Refuge, Liars Club, Alberts Schloss all feature, and yes, Hawksmoor probably is a good choice for a faked second date (or a real one, in fact).

The Adult by Joe Stretch

Manchester appears more towards the second half, but there is much entertaining and moving in this sharp coming-of-age novel. From smoothie-making in The Arndale to band rehearsals in an Ancoats mill, the Manchester of the post-financial crisis emerges.

‘Progress commandeered 19th Century buildings, and then, as the economy weakened, left them to crumble behind fences that showed conceptual drawings of new ways of living, where blurred illustrations of humans lingered in paved squares that looked neither public nor private’.

Yep, there is a new wave of those fantasy drawings and an even greater takeover of the city by POPS (privately owned public spaces) since the novel was published.

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth

The film moved the action to Dublin, but the Manchester of the novel is bold and booze-soaked, as we follow our protagonists in a drunken hungover haze around the city. No judgement will be made here on how relatable is a 2am inebriated trip to St Ann’s Square McDonalds, followed by a vomit. But it’s not all pubs. Back to libraries, The Portico - referred to as the Georgian Library - is the scene for a literary event. With wine of course. The description of climbing the winding stairs, to emerge under the dome of the main room to experience ‘the vast tranquility of libraries that’s a lot like being outdoors’ should entice any new visitor. The novel was shortlisted for the Portico Prize.

Useful links

The Manchester Man at Chethams Library.

Twitter @MhariMcF

Previous Post Next Post