Book Review / Swann's Way to Salford and Failsworth

Manchester Pieces by Paul Driver Picador, pounds 15.99

In the part of Salford where I grew up it was always either Light Oaks Park or Oakwood Park, quite distinct in character though separated by only a few hundred yards, and forming a fundamental dualism in my mind, my homely version of Proust's archetypal choice between Swann's and the Guermantes' ways. Broadly, Light Oaks Park was maternal, Oakwood the opposite."

This is classic bad writing in the most approved, up-to-date style. It hits us on the head with allusions. Proust makes a good short cosh, but "Proust's archetypal choice", incorporating a Jungian buzz, is sensational. We are wowed by "fundamental dualism" before male and female elements are mutually opposed, exactly as psychiatry has taught chatterers to chat. Finally he grovels: "My homely version of Proust's archetypal choice". We talk Proust you see, but we're not proud.

Four bits of nicely-polished one-upmanship and a deft little cringe, all in under 60 words, will scare the bookies, but such archness in an account of Manchester is something else. I don't think they reckon much to fundamental dualism in Failsworth...

There is merit in Manchester Pieces, the merit of intelligence and sensitivity. Mr Driver has put together a clutch of essays and essayettes to convey personal autobiography - being a child among aunts and uncles, finding a talent for music (much the best thing in the book) and random accounts of great men seen fleetingly (Barbirolli, Anthony Burgess) or thought about portentously (Thomas De Quincy). The whole wispy ensemble is linked by the single theme of having something to do with Manchester.

Where Mr Driver stays with the family - Grandma seen through admiring childish eyes and resentful adult ones, Uncle Dick with his obsessions and dedicated immobility - he keeps up interest and attraction. When he talks about violin practice, grasping the point of vibrato and breaking through to a world of youth orchestras, he is talking as a decent technician lapped with unaffected enthusiasms. But when he goes literary, he goes phoney. Take his introductory fanfare:

"Inasmuch as the names of cities mean anything Manchester is a city a breast-like hill Mamucium a Roman breast later Manigeceastre Mamecestre a Norman breast and even eventually Madchester which is more like city built on a tilt a city of nightclub obsession pop music ecstasy crack the latest thing for Manchester has been doing many things though during the Middle Ages it was pretty much nothing marking time nicely with a flourishing trade in wool." And so on for 2500 words, without full stop, comma or apostrophe, of cod Molly Bloom spattered with psychiatrist's smut.

The worst of Manchester Pieces wears its knowingness like a T-shirt and has damn-all to do with Manchester. The best, in "Avatars of Genius" records him trying to keep up with John Clayton, a more dazzling music student, getting sniffy about Shostakovich for being too conservative and, at Oxford, being touchingly stricken with disbelief in the musical talent which had buoyed him up for seven years and brought him there. It is fine, endearing and real. But in "Parks in Parenthesis", he strikes up with that archetypal witterer, John Berger and says "A park is partly a field and a field is what? What defines a field - or a forest: the fence that bounds it or something more integral, more conceptual?"

The difficulty is that the author's style - Arts Council-ingratiating - does not fit his subject. There is an historic Manchester of riots and night schools, native Wesleyanism and immigrant Catholicism, the Jews and the Germans and their music and science - the Manchester which Engels lit upon and the Manchester Guardian before it went south.

Although it would sustain a fascinating book, one doesn't require Mr Driver to write about it. But neither was there a need, under Manchester colours, to drift self-consciously through a gauze jungle of interesting reminiscence and abominable affectation.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London