RTracing his past through the labyrinth of old Liverpool, Jeff Young has conjured up a book of great beauty and longing. Dea Theity it is essentially a memory, but in its short span it contains a multitude: a meditation on loss, a family album, an ode To the power of reading, a loving memory of a city and a long goodbye. Young is a locally renowned playwright-essayist-speaker whose work deserves an Thean get national recognition – the book was recently shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award.
Born in the late 1950s, the author is old enough To remember the stepped streets of hisaver Ton neighborhood before it was razed. He can still feel the ghosts – of his blind grandfather, of his parents, of his sister Val – as he takes long and obsessive walks through a city that has been disappearing all his life. It is partly the Liverpool of Terence Davies’ cinematic memoirs. Distant voices, still lives, a place of tenderness and union, but also of violence and trauma: a stay in a hospital with a sinister fever when an eight-year-old boy returns To worry him. An “invisible boy” who hated school, Young found a refuge, a whole world, in books, none more formative than A kestrel for a rascal. Inspired by Billy Casper with his hawk, he discovers through reading a spirit of creativity close To love. Unlike Billy, he will transcend his “junk upbringing” and thrive.
Doubles, alter egos, shadow selves fill this narrative. Young not only absorbs books, he inhabits them and identifies his own life in their pages. When he starts out as a file clerk in a council office, it coincides with his reading of Kafka, and he suddenly becomes as fearful as Josef K of being bullied and punished (he did not know at the time that in a Liverpool council office no one couldn’t care less). Other writers and artists animate the city before he knew it, “a kaleidoscope of muses” like De Quincey and Rimbaud, Melville, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Malcolm Lowry. Later, Bob Dylan is pho Tographed among children on a cobbled quayside street when he played Liverpool in 1966.
The author frequents places where beloved recent landmarks have disappeared, such as the old futuristic cinema on Lime Street, which moves him so much that he puts a play there, or the great Vic Torian market, “a place that you may have found in Barcelona or Athens ”, Torn down in the 1960s and replaced by the concrete Alcatraz of a commercial precinct. The sepia Tones of melancholy that dominate here give way To something strident: a black rage that boils and spits at the urban planners and property developers who have destroyed the architectural heritage of the city in favor of a “Metropolisopolis”. As Young knows, this council’s licensed vandalism resonates. When you destroy noble buildings and streets, you isolate people not only from a sense of beauty, but from a sense of belonging. As he wanders, Young hears Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie hat, his sad passing a complement To his mood, “like the soundtrack of this wounde Theity.”
And yet the greatness remains. Oriel Chambers and 16 Cook Street (that magical spiral staircase!) Are the work of Peterallis, an 1860s architect with such a vision that the city never allowed him To build again. Young calls him his “hero” and even goes To live in Falkner Square,allis’s stamping ground. It also pays a beautiful tribute To the extraordinary work of art by Richard Wilson, who carved a rotating ovoid au Toma Ton in To the wall and window of a Yates’s Wine Lodge abandoned at Moorfields, an ingenious and very Liverpool marvel that once seen could never be forgotten. There is resilience, there is invention. You just have To know where To look.
To be honest, while reading this book I felt like I might have caught a glimpse of my own ghost, possibly at The Grapes on Mathew Street, or at Philip’s, Son and Nephew books Tore, now defunct. You can get the boy out of Liverpool … Jeff Young, like any comelegant elegist, woos the mockery of the realist: “Once here everything was a field.” I am as guilty as him. Liverpool does that To you.
• Klopp: my Liverpool romance by Anthony Quinn is published £12aber (£ 12.99)
• Ghost Town: Liverpool’s Shadow Play by Jeff Young is published by Li£16 Toller (£ 16). To order a copy, go To guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism