The Northern Clemency

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9780007174799: The Northern Clemency

BOOKER SHORTLISTED 2008. An epic chronicle of the last 20 years of British life from the Booker shortlisted and Granta Best of Young British novelist, Philip Hensher. Beginning in 1974 and ending with the fading of Thatcher's government in 1996, 'The Northern Clemency' is Philip Hensher's epic portrait of an entire era, a novel concerned with the lives of ordinary people and history on the move. Set in Sheffield, it charts the relationship between two families: Malcolm and Katherine Glover and their three children; and their neighbours the Sellers family, newly arrived from London so that Bernie can pursue his job with the Electricity Board. The day the Sellers move in there is a crisis across the road: Malcolm Glover has left home, convinced his wife is having an affair. The consequences of this rupture will spread throughout the lives of both couples and their children, in particular 10-year-old Tim Glover, who never quite recovers from a moment of his mother's public cruelty and the amused taunting of 15-year-old Sandra Sellers, childhood crises that will come to a head twenty years later. In the background, England is changing: from a manufacturing and industrial based economy into a new world of shops, restaurants and service industries, a shift particularly marked in the North with the miners' strike of 1984, which has a dramatic impact on both families. Inspired by the expansive scale and webs of relationships of the great nineteenth-century Russian novels, 'The Northern Clemency' shows Philip Hensher to be one of our greatest chroniclers of English life.

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Review:

Amazon Best of the Month, November 2008: The Northern Clemency begins at the perimeter of a late-summer party, amidst a din of neighbors gossiping one moment and navigating awkward silences the next. But once you encounter the Glover family--in particular, their languidly handsome teenage son Daniel--there's no turning back. The story that follows calls to mind novels by some of our best-loved family chroniclers--John Updike and Jonathan Franzen, to be sure, as well as Ian McEwan and Anne Tyler--and Hensher wrestles with the familiar notions of love and fidelity in ways that are appreciably unpredictable. His characters observe themselves and the ones closest to them in earnest, revealing facts and fallacies of their ordinary lives that make them extraordinarily real people to the reader. Hensher's style (which earned him a spot on the Man Booker Prize shortlist) is among the many qualities that make this novel shine. It's wonderfully paced with language so beautiful and brutally honest that you'll find it hard not to start furiously underlining passages, particularly those about the city of Sheffield, whose families witness "the last phase of its industrial greatness" in 1974 and begin to experience the intensifying class wars that ensue. Though finely tuned to this point in time, and the following two decades, The Northern Clemency rings with the universal truth that family makes no sense, and yet makes all the sense in the world. -- Anne Bartholomew

About the Author:

Philip Hensher is a columnist for The Independent, arts critic for The Spectator and a Granta Best of Young British novelist. He has written five novels, 'Other Lulus', 'Kitchen Venom' (Winner of the Somerset Maughn Award), 'Pleasured', the Booker-longlisted 'The Mulberry Empire' and 'The Fit', as well as a collection of short stories, 'The Bedroom of the Mister's House'. He lives in South London.

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Philip Hensher
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