Fantasy, romance, sci-fi, comedy…we’ve got a genre for everyone
There’s a very good reason Manchester is a UNESCO City of Literature, as we highlighted before its bid to join the prestigious network in 2017. Innovative publishers, diverse bookshops and a lively events scene make it an unrivalled literary melting pot.
As evidenced by places such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester has also been home to many iconic authors through the centuries. Now a multicultural metropolis with around 200 languages, it continues to inspire a rich canon of writing spanning Zahid Hussain’s novel The Curry Mile to Lemn Sissay’s poetry and memoir.
All of which makes selecting our top Manchester reads a difficult task - the titles below could easily be replaced time and again. From poetry to drama and non-fiction, the city excels in many forms but we’ve kept this list focused solely on novels, highlighting one for each major genre (some may apply to several). All are set in Manchester and/or by authors from the region. Grab a cuppa and get stuck in…
FANTASY: Elidor, Alan Garner
The work of children’s fantasy author Alan Garner is most famously associated with Alderley Edge, the Cheshire village in which he grew up and set his first two novels The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. His 1965 story Elidor, however, largely takes place in Manchester; where its four children protagonists return from a fantastical quest only to find their enemy has followed them into our world. Featuring Garner’s trademark blend of folklore, fables and challenging choices, it has been published in nine languages and inspired a 1995 BBC series.
ROMANCE: Making Space, Sarah Tierney
In this compulsive debut set in Whalley Range, a young woman still finding her way falls for Erik: a middle-aged artist and hoarder. Anything but a conventional romance, it deftly handles a psychological condition that is rarely explored elsewhere. Oh, and it’s written by Confidentials’ very own Sarah Tierney. Read our review here.
SCIENCE FICTION: Vurt, Jeff Noon
The first in Jeff Noon’s series of the same name, Vurt is set in an alternate Manchester shaped by a hallucinogenic drug. As Scribble searches for his missing sister, with the help of his ‘gang’ the Stash Riders, expect everything from colour-coded feathers to semi-sentient blobs in this trippy offbeat tale - listed in ‘the best novels of the nineties’ and winner of the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award.
CRIME: Sirens, Joseph Knox
Another author who got press and public aflutter with his debut novel, Joseph Knox’s Sirens was an instant bestseller. Assigned to a teenage runaway case that’s far more complex than it first appears, DC Aiden Waits soon finds himself cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. Knox’s subsequent two novels, The Smiling Man and The Sleepwalker, also follow the troubled junior detective through Manchester’s dark underbelly.
It's hard to know how I can help in this crisis, but I loved the idea my Spanish publisher had of making my books as cheap as possible, so I'm stealing it. The Aidan Waits trilogy - Sirens, The Smiling Man and The Sleepwalker - represents a decade of my writing. Yours for £5.97 x pic.twitter.com/AY08yF1awa
— Joseph Knox (@josephknox__) April 8, 2020
COMEDY: The Mighty Walzer, Howard Jacobson
Winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, Howard Jacobson’s 1999 comedy bears all his trademarks; wry, Jewish and inspired by his own experiences. Oliver Walzer is a natural…at ping-pong. Even with his improvised bat (the Collins Classic edition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) he can chop like a champion. But when it comes to his love life, Walzer needs to up his game. Can Sheeny Waxman help? See what we thought of the novel’s 2016 stage adaptation here.
DYSTOPIA: A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
Rivalling George Orwell’s 1984 as the most iconic dystopia, this satirical black comedy is narrated by teenage Alex in English and the Russian-influenced slang ‘Nadsat.’ As well as Alex’s depravity and drug use, we learn of the authority’s attempts to ‘therapise’ him with no regard to his mental state. The 1962 novel inspired a landmark film adaption by Stanley Kubrick and became Burgess’ best known novel.
SEMI AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson
Now often included in school curricula, Jeanette Winterson’s 1985 coming-of-age novel is a certified classic. About a lesbian girl who grows up in an English Pentecostal community, it won Winterson (now a creative writing professor at Manchester University) the Whitbread Award for a First Novel and was made into an award-winning BBC adaption.
CHILDREN'S: The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Another classic and the subject of several TV and film adaptations, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s magical 1911 story - partly written during visits to Salford’s Buile Hill Park - is a testament to family bonds, childhood adventure and the healing power of nature. Born in Cheetham Hill, Burnett was the subject of a special post box in 2019.
HISTORICAL: The Night Brother, Rosie Garland
Ever the entertainer, Rosie Garland sung in post-punk band The March Violets and now performs ‘twisted cabaret’ as Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen. But she’s also a literary maverick with an array of essays, short stories and poetry to her name (much of which she also reads at spoken words events citywide) and three acclaimed novels. Her latest, The Night Brother, navigates themes of gender and identity through two siblings in Victorian Manchester. Rich and Gothic, it’s a must for fans of Angela Carter.
For a real-life insight into Victorian Manchester, we recommend Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and Isabella Banks’ The Manchester Man.