EVER SINCE WINIFRED Holtby's South Riding, novels about clever Northern lasses getting an education and bettering themselves in the world have virtually established a genre of their own. Those like myself, who are the children of the ones who got away, read these stories with a kind of impatience. It's always Grim Oop North, with Mam drudging away, Dad getting drunk and Our Billy going down the mines or into the factories, clinging on to the socialist dream of a better life when not shagging the local girls senseless after beer and skittles. Actually, my Dad's life in Bishop Auckland was nothing like this, and neither, I bet, were those of thousands of other clever and enterprising Northerners. Yet from Hilary Mantel and Margaret Drabble to Catherine Cookson and Edwina Currie, novels depicting life in York, Manchester or Liverpool seem to follow this template.
Looking at Carol Birch's seventh novel, Turn Again Home, you can see why. What is being described is a culture in which culture (as readers of this magazine understand it) has triumphed through endurance. The novel follows several generations of a Manchester famdy, with Bessie, an illegitimate serving girl, its