Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008 DATE READ: October 2008 NOTES: The Northern Clemency takes an ambitious sweep across the decades from the 1970s focussing mainly on two families in Sheffield. At the beginning of the book the Sellers family is newly arrived from London. Bernie works for the Electricity Board while Alice is very much the housewife. Fifteen year old Sandra is a precocious, ill-mannered teenager while her younger brother Francis is quiet and introspective (based on Hensher?) The Glovers are a pretty dysfunctional bunch. Malcolm works for a building society while Katherine stays at home – until she decides to get a part-time job in a newly opened local florists. Their oldest son Daniel is a handsome, sulky boy who spends his free time seducing girls. Jane is comparatively normal while young Timothy is a sad and troubled boy with an obsession with snakes (and a later obsession with Sandra and Marxism). I was soon sucked into the story and the book became quite hard to put down. The writing is particularly good in the way that the social history of the time – clothes, food, entertainment – is portrayed. He documents council house sales, mobile phones, gastropubs and the changing nature of canap├ęs. Less effective for me were Hensher’s characters – only Daniel came really alive, the others were much more two dimensional. And radical Timothy was the least believable character in the book. Some characters were introduced but then dropped so we never met them again (like Andrew hospitalised with a broken leg and Nick the florist cum money launderer). The book refers to political events of the seventies and eighties in a somewhat oblique way. This works well at one level considering that these were middle-class families but it is hard to believe anyone in Sheffield at the time could have been so unconcerned with the miners’ strike or the Falklands War. Nonetheless this is a good read – and don’t be put off by the 700+ pages!

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