Rochdale Canal: Navigation Street to Hulme Hall Lane

Rochdale Canal: Navigation Street to Hulme Hall Lane

  If I was planning my walks in a methodical fashion, I’d have started at the beginning. Canals, after all, have very clear starting points, and the Rochdale’s is Castlefield Basin. I write that and then go and check something. Yep, wrong way round. Castlefield might be my beginning and the bit of the Rochdale I know but, in reality, it’s the end. The canal actually starts in Sowerby, climbing to its summit on the Pennines, 600 feet above sea level, before dropping back down, via 56 locks, to the junction in Manchester with the Bridgewater Canal. I keep getting stuff wrong at the moment, which is fine because it means I’m LEARNING! I made another, fairly significant, error on the day of the walk. My plan is to walk along the Ashton Canal...

How to Map a Canal

How to Map a Canal

You might have seen one of the canals in Manchester from the train. Maybe you’ve had a drink at a Castlefield bar, or stood and watched as the geese on the Irwell drift their way past the Lowry Hotel. Canal Street? Yeah, sure, but which canal? One of the things about waterways in a city is that they keep disappearing: under roads, under whole buildings. The towpath is there for a bit, but then you have to climb up again, because of building works or because the path just disappears. It’s the other way round if you’re on the water. You make your way through, on your sunken, private route, with little thought of which road you’re near, or whether there’s a city landmark nearby. The way is measured by locks and bridges, by where you can...

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen is a damaged child, trapped in a bad place. Well, technically, she’s not a child: she’s twenty four. But she’s undernourished, and stunted physically and mentally, trapped in a loveless home with an alcoholic, needy father. Who is abusive, in an emotionally battering sense. Oh, and it’s Christmas. The setting is a snowy New England town, only identified as X-ville. We are listening to the voice of Eileen as an old woman, looking back at the few weeks of her life in 1964 when she knew Rebecca Saint John. Rebecca turns up at the boys’ prison at which Eileen works as a secretary, brought in to plan an education programme for the inmates. A glamorous and beautiful oddity in the griminess of X-ville, she befriends Eileen,...

Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

Two things will keep this a relatively short review. One: Christmas (because no, I still haven’t even made a list. Of anything). Two: because actually what I want to do is have a proper, in-depth, book-club-style conversation with other people who have read this. So think of the review as a taster. Put Swimming Lessons on your Christmas list (even though I’m sure you’ve had yours ready for months), anticipate its arrival in the dog-days of January, immerse yourself in every page and then get back to me. Tell me what you think, listen to what I think. We can have coffee. It’ll be great! Twelve years ago, Ingrid Coleman disappeared. Now her younger daughter, Flora, hears from her sister that their father, Gil, is claiming to have seen her....

The Penny Heart, by Martine Bailey

The Penny Heart, by Martine Bailey

I was going to start this by mentioning that this was the first Monday in August but, of course, it isn’t. It’s just that I’ve been picking blackberries (and yes, they get earlier every year) and also sloes (and it seems freakishly early for them…). Why is that relevant? Well, Martine Bailey writes culinary gothic, with eighteenth century mystery and dark practice mixed up with (and often directly affected by) what is going on in stately home kitchens. In her first novel, An Appetite for Violets, novice cook Biddy learns from a wise, if incoherent, woman about how food can influence the events of the world around her. The Penny Heart, out this month in paperback, takes this further, with the powerful side of baking unleashed at the hands...

Everything Love Is, by Claire King

Everything Love Is, by Claire King

Everything Love Is begins on a train, a delayed train on its way from Spain to Toulouse. A young woman, almost beyond the reach of speech, gives birth in the overwhelming heat of a packed carriage. The baby is born and the mother dies, without name or history. A lifetime later, and Baptiste is living on a boat, Candice, on the outskirts of Toulouse. He is a counsellor of sorts, helping clients to find happiness. There is a network of fellow boat-dwellers nearby, and a bar where he spends his evenings, chatting to Sophie behind the bar. He is tranquil, content. In the nearby countryside, his parents live their equally tranquil life. Baptiste’s beginnings, that anonymous birth on the train between Barcelona and Toulouse, are significant but not overwhelmingly...

The Farm at the Edge of the World, by Sarah Vaughan

The Farm at the Edge of the World, by Sarah Vaughan

I’m really enjoying second books at the moment. It’s usually the debuts that get all the fuss: debut novel awards, the puff on Twitter and Facebook, the feeling that this is the moment that counts. And us writers often talk about second novels as a challenge. Can we do it again? What if the first one was a fluke? What if we can’t even finish writing the second one?! But it turns out that everything is ok. I’ve read a number of seconds lately that have taken the position set by the debut and built on it quite beautifully. And The Farm at the Edge of the World is definitely one of them. Will Cooke has been evacuated from war-torn London to a remote Cornish farmhouse, nicknamed Skylark Farm, along with his younger sister Alice. He knows that...