It is surprising to me of how comparatively few gay writers there are either from, or based in Manchester. As somewhere with a large creative outlet for the LGBT scene, it is surprises me that there is hardly any literature focusing on Manchester’s LGBT scene.
Enter Canal Street Gothic from Manchester Evening News reporter David Thame. Throughout the ten tales in this short story collection he explores the highways and byways in search of the various characters within Canal Street’s grasp (the book is also supporting The Albert Kennedy Trust helping young gay people in Manchester).
The first story, ’Regulars’ sets the scene introducing the moods and the rituals of Canal Street’s various divisions.
A strong start, with its tales of four invisible ghosts it is resonant for those haunting the area as new generations swoop in. Thame’s characters are literal ghosts here but writer Russell T. Davies has commented on how despite the passage of time since perhaps the best known work on Canal Street’s community – the 1990’s series Queer as Folk – he felt the same faces still haunted the area – just a little greyer and older. As engaging as this first story is though, it doesn’t delve into what makes Manchester’s pink quarter tick – and is it this that is the success and failure of Canal Street Gothic.
There are some neat themes running through this collection particularly the tension between old/young. The old are unsure of themselves, for instance Father Bird allows himself to be taken advantage of in ’Tea at the Rectory’ whilst Roger tries to recapture his youth through the gym despite his neurotic partner’s reservations in ’Pancake Day’. In comparison the young are cocksure of themselves, Lorel strutting around the Northern Quarter as if he owns everyone and everything in ’Cock Lorel’ being a prime example. But Thame’s older characters have the upper hand, as they are the more comfortable with themselves whether their intentions are right or wrong.
Elsewhere we travel to Fallowfield for ’Dr. Nazami’s Pizza’, another successful story of a man who doesn’t even realise his homosexual feelings until confronted with them thanks to a stranger on the phone. Beautifully told it leaves you hungry to find out what happens next.
Thame does well to capture Manchester’s diversity and suburbs our characters congregate in. Thame’s Manchester feels real and lived in. But, there isn’t enough here to satisfy your appetite. It seems churlish to criticise something for not having enough content, but just as the crossing threads from the stories begin to combine, you’re dumped back on Canal Street and the book is finished.
Written with great care and a tender hand, Canal Street Gothic is a realistic look into Manchester’s LGBT community. My only disappointment is that left I’m hungry for more, as Thame presents a snapshot rather than a rounded picture of a vibrant community in our city.