King of the Badgers
By Philip Hensher
(Faber & Faber, Hardcover, 9780865478633, 448pp.)
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
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A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book for 2011
One of The Telegraph’s Best Fiction Books 2011
Far from London’s crime and pollution, Hanmouth’s wealthier residents live in picturesque, heavily mortgaged cottages in the center of a town packed with artisanal cheese shops and antiques stores. They’re reminded of the town’s less desirable outskirts—with their grim, flimsy housing stock and chain stores—only when their neighbors have the presumption to claim also to live in Hanmouth.
When an eight-year-old girl from the outer area goes missing, England’s eyes suddenly turn toward the sleepy town with a curiosity as piercing and unblinking as the closed-circuit security cameras that line Hanmouth’s idyllic streets. But somehow these cameras have missed the abduction of the girl, whose name is China. Is her blank-eyed hairdresser mother hiding her as part of a moneymaking hoax? Has she been abducted by one of the lurking perverts the townspeople imagine the cameras are protecting them from? Perhaps more cameras are needed?
As it turns out, more than one resident of Hanmouth has a secret hidden behind closed doors. There’s Sam and Harry, the cheesemonger and aristocrat who lead the county’s gay orgies. The quiet husband of postcolonial theorist Miranda (everyone agrees she’s marvelous) keeps a male lover, while their daughter disembowels dolls she’s named Child Pornography and Slightly Jewish. Moral crusader John Calvin’s Neighborhood Watch has an unusual reason for holding its meetings in secret. And, of course, somewhere out there is the house where little China is hidden.
With the dark hilarity and unflinching honesty of a modern-day Middlemarch, King of the Badgers demolishes the already fragile privacy of Hanmouth’s inhabitants. These characters, exquisitely drawn and rawly human, proclaim Philip Hensher’s status as an extraordinary chronicler of the domestic, and one of the world’s most dazzling and ambitious novelists.
Philip Hensher is a British novelist, critic, and journalist. He writes for The Guardian and The Independent and teaches creative writing at the University of Exeter. His sixth novel, The Northern Clemency, was short-listed for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
“Philip Hensher’s wonderfully complex, paradoxical subject in King of the Badgers is the nature of privacy, and of its violation . . . [He] has established himself as one of our most ambitious novelists. His ear for dialogue, sharp sense of the absurd and appreciation of human self-delusion recall Kingsley Amis; his fiction, like that of Amis, is powered by a strong if unconventional sense of morality. And, like Amis, he is one of fiction’s rarest creatures: a writer who can move readers to stifled snorts of recognition, and then to outright laughter.” —Helen Dunmore, Guardian
“Were he not so marvelously himself, he might remind one of Thackeray, with whom he shares a brisk, efficiency at moving about a large cast and an intense vivid skill at defining minor figures . . . With Thackeray, too, Hensher shares a rare quality of kindness and an engaging fondness of seeing through the eyes of the insignificant, the peculiar, the powerless . . . His enjoyment of his own cleverness and fluency is utterly infectious.” —Jane Shilling, Telegraph
“Like Angus Wilson, a possible influence on these scenes from provincial life, Hensher’s forte is the social round: the party; the conversation in the grocer’s shop; the fragments of repartee borne back on the high street breeze . . . One is struck, and seduced, by a coruscating intelligence, that manifests itself in dozens of literary allusions waiting to be uncombed . . . and hundreds of individual sentences burnished up to the max . . . Hensher is one of the few English novelists at work who a) is seriously interested in the varieties of modern Englishness, and b) has the intellectual resources to address them.” —Independent
“King of the Badgers is a rich and ambitious novel, which manages both to offer a convincing picture of different levels of English society today and to explore the shifting certainties of individual lives. It is certainly easier to read than to summarise, and this is as it should be. After all, any novel capable of being precisely summed up in a short review is rarely worth reading.” —Allan Massie, Scotsman
“Cleverly shifting gear from time to time to keep us on our toes, Hensher hovers on the edge of black comedy and satire, but the dark shadows cast by the little girl’s disappearance restrain him from going too far in those directions . . . Hensher has used an exceedingly sharp scalpel for this dissection of Middle England, and it would be a great disappointment if King of the Badgers didn’t follow his previous novel, The Northern Clemency, on to the Man Booker shortlist.” —Alastair Mabbott, The Herald
“A powerfully delightful book, rich in pathos and drama, rowdy with life . . . Hensher’s unflagging attention to detail, both physical and psychological, is extraordinary.” —Edmund Gordon, Times Literary Supplement