27 thoughts on “Manchester Uncanny — Nicholas Royle


    “You have to think about how what you say, he said, again, will be received by who you say it to.”

    Reviewing, too, has its political correctness and walking on eggshells, its deathism, as well as assumptions embodied in sexism and so forth and who in the story was the husband of whom. I might I have said, if this story was by a nemonymous author, that they should concentrate on a different style of story writing. In the Covid Lockdown, business colleagues were indeed more nemonymous than when sitting side by side in open plan offices. And this is a disarmingly deadpan view of university creative-writing office-politics pre- and post-Lockdown, from email and zoom as a living death to what transpired afterwards when returning to the office, the oblique results of which have not been empirically tested since they had never happened before. Knowing actually who did write this story, knowing them by long on-line acquaintance and, now, by recent renewal of a face to face meeting on the zigzag slopes of real living, I can safely say this is one of those stories where it is difficult to say why it so utterly brilliant. But it is. Seriously.

    “I couldn’t believe what I had heard myself say.”

  2. Safe from spoilers…


    The title is an irony. A classic Royle story full of plain-spoken traps to which one should be alert.
    A series of viewpoints being shown into the same space odyssey of a fire-escaped flat to be let — viewpoints of first person, second person, third person, singular or plural, but each of us might fall into a different unsafe trap of meaning…
    which one of them is you?
    which of them Suzy who?


    “Low wattage.”

    And high mountainage outside Manchester as seen from within Manchester. With pervasive city dog smells and thwarted ambitions of painting one’s walls in white to get the taste out of some things in this substantive story. Without knowing Manchester from direct experience I can still live these aspects of someone younger than me and their memories of childhood seeing Kes, and then their sense of the 80s and its VHS horror or sex tapes and seedy shops still in being when he returns to Manchester after being in London — but it’s utterly REAL, insidious with police following this son of a policeman and I do remember the name James Anderton as if I have found a tape of these tranches of time in Manchester, in words arranged as meaning to be inserted between mountain sides or quarry sides or between Tid street or some other street where I thought and forgotten the discomforting Video and DVD basement once was, somehow absorbing this Manchester like a VHS tape inserted into my belly or brain, though that never happens in the story but I felt it happened when reading it, and learning about the police and judiciary corruptions of older times that I shall never live through because consciousness ever threatens to fade like the ability to play old tapes, as if our times today are too modern and available on an endless streaming of corruptions so unhidden as to become not corruptions at all! I, too, shall be staring out of the window of someone else’s home soon?

    “Every movable surface was at a new angle to all others.”

  4. Full on Night

    I have been listening to a relevant Spotify after reading this meticulously atmospheric description of driving a car, starting and stopping, through benighted and functional Manchester, depots and underpasses and near empty car parks. But what is the real musical accompaniment to whom? The story’s startling ending started a new musical journey for me….

    And later I intend to revisit Night Songs by Helen Grime.


    “Same Yet”

    …Simister being a suburb of BURY, and these passages, some incantatory or refrain-like, are the zigzag möbii in Manchester as simply but evocatively cross-traversed here by numbered motorways, trams or buses, and a man who, upon such recurrent transversals, has competing duties with his office job and with delivery windows at his own home and with his erstwhile pet cats off in his estranged wife’s Simister house while she is away with her new man, and with the uncle figure who lives down his own road whom he is forced to help bed-unblock from the local hospital — involving life’s onward delivery of packaged deaths. I hear the rhythm of my own bubble rap even closer.

  6. Pingback: SIMISTER by Nicholas Royle | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books


    “I lost the centre. I lost my edge.”

This is an extended prose poem written and now read ever-incrementally for our times, and each of us will take something different, something valuable, something invaluable: strangers and friends, multiplied alike. I tasted each word separately, as if they were born as only children without siblings, and then tried out a gestalt of their togetherness. And failed! And I recognised my own failing powers, too, a bespoke feeling of T.S. Eliot poetry, but not of T.S. Eliot himself.

    “I’ve lost the means to connect, the will to know the truth.”



    Pandead, pindead (without even a reader’s senile clue to its code): a tranche of life @BlockOfFlats, and I literally surveil Nick or Neil or Dad (the same man with different names) with my faulty reading binoculars…”Someday someone will invent a lens, a filter, an app, to unencrypt frosted glass.” Report on Probability A. Or lend me a gestalt viewer! As he talks to his 16 year old daughter, celebs on Tv or not, playing backgammon with her; she lives with her Mum, I guess, and this is Dad’s access time; then talk of referencing his own Mum or Stella (same woman). A dark He art. In a Man Chest. He meets other neighbours, hangs pictures with claw hammer and nails, not Neil’s; talk of the need of his own Dad’s grave being ‘reseeded’. Meaning recedes. cbf. (Is this the sort of stuff made memorable by Manchester Un – – – – y?)

  9. Or of redactions 4E7DA204-37CA-45B4-AEB6-E09038A2FA8A Merleau-Ponty sounding like a tourist sight 4E7DA204-37CA-45B4-AEB6-E09038A2FA8A phenomenology of cemeteries 4E7DA204-37CA-45B4-AEB6-E09038A2FA8A needing a man 4E7DA204-37CA-45B4-AEB6-E09038A2FA8A lifting corpses before they are dead 4E7DA204-37CA-45B4-AEB6-E09038A2FA8A we’ll never have 4E7DA204-37CA-45B4-AEB6-E09038A2FA8A.

    Insufficient Data for an Image


    The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction. Floaters and blind spots. Versions of migraine and superstitious redaction. The tester of each ‘I’. Misbegotten projects. Computer glitches.
    This story represents a series of powerful but low-key inferences for us to feel the long-term symmetry of a marriage once it loses the other half.
    Until there is an AIRING of one particular blind spot that had been there all the time, unacknowledged.

    O Level – Omniscience Level?
 Are there levels or degrees of or in Omniscience? Different Pathways in becoming a Polymath?

  10. Pingback: Studies at Manchester Un – – – – y | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  11. Someone Take These Dreams Away

    ‘Art’s impossible without ambiguity.’

    This is possibly one of the most disturbing stories I have read by Royle, or by anyone, come to think of it. The title is evoked here as the essence of dread and, post-dread, never being able to get rid of that dread…. involving another Nick and a fellow student from Nick’s boys school but in a different year stream looking for Nick, filling in for Nick amid University office academic and personality politics, stalking him back into memories of the school where all the boys were told to swim naked in the school pool — with all the resonances permeating later the Nicks’ Kiss, tied up with IF..IF.. and a Fifty-something woman who played a character in that colour cinema film amidst black and white interruptions, a character that has haunted the student or the older man or other boyish sexual Mrs Robinson fantasies throughout the land ever since, as ever found in the found art of found DVDs, a woman now a neighbour of Nick in place as well as in age? But which Nick? So much more in this substantive example of dark literary Roylety that I can’t cover here. Its pervasive ambiguity is clear.

  12. Pingback: Someone Take These Dreams Away — Nicholas Royle | Träumtrawler


    A tower roughly contemporaneous with another north England academic tower around a quad near where my wife and I met just as it was being built; she became a maths teacher. Me a sort of wordmonger who later lived through news of Grenfell. This, meantime, is a tantalising pre-Grenfell published story with a spray of numbers, and of other people, where a different woman’s mummy didn’t quite peel off properly. One wonders why equations are not always equal to the forces of the simultaneous, nor buildings to the forces of the quadratic.

  14. Nothing Else Matters

    “…sizing up shots, working out angles.”

    Indeed. And, here, the general undercurrents of worldly wear and tear — towards life’s final skid marks while worryingly envisaging someone who overdoes the shots on green baize — are effectively conveyed by thoughts of father with son, then that son a father of another son, with inherited cues — cues and anxieties amid changing concerns and circumstances. From experience, I fully empathise, as I continue to take my own shots.

  15. SALT

    “…’What we really need are more novels by X.’”

    Had Salt already published NEW STORIES 1, when this story was first published all those years ago, or was it simply written so as to get in it!? No wonder there was no issue no. 2, if so. The story dares a sequel, but no one would dare read it nor any sequel of what it was in. The story was then evidently salted away; it had needed this reasonable gap of years before being republished today for a new generation of daredevils. On the face of it a student as narrator, whose gender is given away towards the end, a student of Dave, a creative writing tutor living in Manchester, having once earlier published a novel entitled ‘Salt’ that hardly anyone had read, but this student had read it, now invited at dusk to Dave’s house for the next one to one tutorial….
    There should be no superstition about reading fiction; it is its own superstition.


    “Welcome to Only Connect,…”

    A notepad as transposed from operands, becoming a poet’s block of seemingly real-time, real-life messages as sent to them during the strange times, weird times, challenging times, difficult times of the earlier lockdowns, indeed transposed toward an effective gestalt that somehow gives sense and comfort to us in today’s even stranger, even weirder, even more challenging and difficult times in the hope that they, too, will soon merely be a notepad within a crashed computer’s memory. And we live on happily outside in the clouds.


    “…waiting for a pattern to emerge, something to give it meaning.”

    This wondrously suppressed work is a genuine classic of gradually released omniscience. Or simply a genuine classic. Read it not, at your deprivation peril. The story of Neil, a ‘mere’ musician, with a high-flying wife in law, returns from London to his old Manchester, along with her and with their 4 year old Evie. And we are dipped in some secret pond, at least for me, of Manchester gig band names, memories, a dream of a Mark Samuels type firm’s lorry marked ALSISO, and thoughts of when Neil first lived in Manchester, and now meeting again his old pal Miggy who is a sad video hermit, living where he used to live, with its own secret pond called Zulu, after we earlier learnt of another secret pond of Neil’s near an airport, where Neil takes Evie to show her it, a pond called the Crucian Pit. This story also contains or embodies what I consider to be a landmark of reading knowledge: a Cheshire semi. And there is a memory from Neil’s old Manchester of a compliant band singer called Alissa whom he once met at a gig, featuring a gig audience with a defiant youthful Japanese unmosher … and I could go on and on itemising the plot but what good would it do? I am only allowed to tell one other person of its different secrets, especially its exquisite musical ‘dying fall’. And I guess there is the slight danger of more than one person reading this review. The empty nesters and an unmoshing heron, notwithstanding.

    “I’d noticed, while driving around at night, that if I played anything originating from elsewhere it didn’t sound right. Maybe going back anywhere would have the same effect. Or maybe it was Manchester.
    Or maybe it was me.”


    I shall now refer back to my review of this story some years ago, and will reproduce it in the sub-comment below. I have not yet re-read the earlier review. Remarkably, or perhaps not, my reading of this story today came up as if I had never read it before. (One of the reasons that I first started real-time reviewing was because of my poor memory which has increasingly grown worse.)

    • Alsiso – Nicholas Royle

      “There was a shop on the corner. There’s always a shop on the corner.”

      Cheshire Semis are a fascinating concept of houses, each containing more or less than it portends.  Like this story.

      It tells of someone returning home to Manchester with his wife and small daughter after living for some time in London. Nostalgia and remembered places loom large, including music he used to know via Peel and so forth.  And people and memories and haunted moments of guilt.  In Simon Strantzas, this return to a secret pool where someone may have once been abandoned would end up with a phenomenon as inchoate metaphor awaiting the protagonist’s return to this place.  In Nicholas Royle, it’s something even more inchoate than any metaphor.  A driver deciding which way to drive or a writer deciding how to end things…

      Alsiso, like Glyphotech, is a label on a van or dustcart. I wonder if Councils sub-contract the dredging of secret pools….

      A serious ‘genius loci’ and a truly felt, personal sense of past regret paradoxically created by the hope otherwise stirred by a change of life, a change provided by a return to the scenes of that regret.  I felt unaccountably sad. 

      Part Two of this book so far remains intangible as a contribution to any gestalt that I was previously seeking.  Maybe that is what Part Two is all about, i.e. simply creating a pool of stories wherein the essential Alsiso is sensed to exist … yet lurking at unfishable depths? (28 Aug 09 – another seven hours later)

      THE ALSISO PROJECT (2003) was reviewed by me in 2009 and the whole reveiw can be found here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/the-alsiso-project/

  18. Pingback: THE ALSISO PROJECT remembered… | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  19. The Lancashire Fusilier

    “Over the years I copped all the 44s and most of the 46s and every 45 bar one – 45123.”

    A sad spot trainer’s tail, oops, times do change, minds are transposed, and trains connected from Harwich near where I live today to the environs up north, connected, too, with wars as seen on TV, and new-fangled health and safety laws, but I imagine my son who, in another time dimension, might have left his thermos or unwashed scarf on a foreign war field… and such empathy results in tears. Don’t go there! Well, you can’t today in real-time. The trains, you see, have justly vanished on strike. The Manchester Uncanny, meantime, will be copped and cabbed by enthusiasts forever.



    “We have to live in the meantime, don’t we?”

    This is the archetypal Nicholas Royle work, and I mean that in a highly complimentary way, complementary, too (I have tinnitus in the left ear), complemental (psychological and hypochondriac), compartmental as well as apartmental, simply mental, academic (medical and literary), personal, and architectural (‘people texture’ in architects’ renderings), bibliophiliac (books as doppelgängers), two way mirrors, hidden cameras, ghosts between invisible floors, walk-throughs as zigzag möbii… if I told you of every item that enthused me about this story….such as post-pandemic hot desks, its central anxiety, its Chekhovian in-joke…and much more…
    It is essentially a story, though, a story that transcends its parts. About a single man, a double-apartmented man, leaving his job, with the books he packs. The gestalt that quadruple-bluffs the competing leitmotifs and protocols within it.


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