The Northern Clemency
The Northern Clemency
Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400044481, 608pp.
Publication Date: October 22, 2008
The award-winning author of The Mulberry Empire brings us a sweeping chronicle of ordinary lives profoundly shaped by both the subtleties of everyday experience and the larger forces of history.
In 1974, the Sellers family is transplanted from London to Sheffield in northern England. On the day they move in, the Glover household across the street is in upheaval: convinced that his wife is having an affair, Malcolm Glover has suddenly disappeared. The reverberations of this rupture will echo through the years to come as the connection between the families deepens. But it will be the particular crises of ten-year-old Tim Glover—set off by two seemingly inconsequential but ultimately indelible acts of cruelty—that will erupt, full-blown, two decades later.
These lives unfold against the vividly rendered backdrop of twentieth-century England at the dawn of the Thatcher era: prosperity for some and disenfranchisement for others, which will have a drastic impact on both families.
Expansive and deeply felt, The Northern Clemency shows Philip Hensher to be one of our most masterly chroniclers of modern English life, and a storyteller of virtuosic gifts.
Philip Hensher’s novels include Kitchen Venom, which won the Somerset Maugham Award, and The Mulberry Empire, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Chosen by Granta as one of its best young British novelists, he is professor of creative writing at Exeter University and a columnist for The Independent. He lives in London.
“Relentlessly enveloping . . . Dazzling . . . The Northern Clemency creates a piercingly insightful group portrait . . . Why was it one of the most plausible nominees for this year’s Man Booker Prize (and arguably a much better choice than The White Tiger, this year’s flashy winner)? Why is it the best book of 2008, according to the editors of Amazon.com? The answer hides in plain sight. This is a book that can artfully encapsulate the whole state of the Glover family in a single unappetizing culinary image . . . Hensher is apt to be an instant hit with American audiences.”
–New York Times
“In 2003, Granta magazine included Hensher on their list of 'Best Young British Novelists' along with the now famous Monica Ali and Zadie Smith. The Northern Clemency thoroughly justifies his place in that Olympian group . . . This absorbing portrait of a large group of people invites comparison to Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections or Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, but Hensher is a gentler satirist and treats his characters more tenderly. Indeed, he writes with such illuminating attention to the flutterings of everyday hope and despair that you come away from these pages feeling like a more insightful person. That’s all we ask from the best books of the year . . . Startlingly perceptive.”
–Washington Post Book World
“Anyone who thinks that the English novel has lost its ability to inhabit sprawling, meaty tomes, as in the days of yore, might want to take note of The Northern Clemency . . . A richly textured, closely observed saga . . . Hensher provides plenty of action, but he embeds it in the atmosphere and rhythms of quotidian existence. There is an aspect of social history to the novel that reminds one of Mrs. Gaskell or even Dickens . . . Searing.”
–Wall Street Journal
Praise from the UK:
“The Northern Clemency is a tremendous book . . . Philip Hensher has composed not so much a condition-of-England as a condition-of-humanity novel, which is gripping and surprising and shocking in all kinds of unpredictable ways, and enormously wide in psychological and moral scope. What a writer he is!”
“Philip Hensher’s new book shows that the epic, exciting, deeply engaged novel of society is not dead in England. The book has all the blessings of art, with the pulse of what Henry James called ‘felt life’ at the centre of its moral adventures.”
–Andrew O’Hagan, author of Our Fathers
“This is the most absorbing and enjoyable novel I’ve read since the heyday of A.S. Byatt . . . Such is Hensher’s wit and humanity and so rich in detail is his crowded canvas, we soon realize that the novel is indeed a modern epic . . . You won’t want to skip a single sentence. It strides along, packed with cherishable observations.”
“Brilliantly styled . . . Hensher is fascinatingly good on how social transformation manifests itself in the textures, colours and manners of a culture . . . The Northern Clemency is not only extremely funny, but also deeply humane. [It] is a virtuoso display of sympathy: Hensher seems to dwell as easily and evocatively in the mind-world of a 10-year-old schoolboy as in that of a 59-year-old stroke victim or a middle-aged estate agent.”
“A remarkable novel . . . As emotionally engaged as political satire and as compulsively readable as a saga . . . But while Hensher's technical virtuosity is remarkable and his ability to conjure anything from a front room to an entire era equally striking, something more than brilliant cleverness makes this novel extraordinary . . . At the heart of the elegant narrative architecture, the fine comic timing and exuberant detail, there flickers a sense that generosity, a sense of others, is the best we can do. And at the last, in a twist as shocking as tragedy, that modest hope is beautifully fulfilled . . . Dazzling.”
“An engrossing and hugely impressive novel . . . Hensher is a brilliant anatomist of familial tension and marshals his large cast of characters deftly. He has an impeccable eye for nuances of character and setting, and the details of Seventies food and decor are lovingly done.”
“The Northern Clemency is a terrific novel–a truly fine achievement . . . It is a tribute to Hensher’s powers of invention that this saga becomes so involving that no detail is too small. And Hensher is at his brilliant best in the details.”
“An early contender for novel of the year . . . Hensher presents the great drama and inexhaustible wonder of ordinary life . . . The novel is beautifully organised at three levels–close up, at the level of the sentence, further back, at the level of narrative progress, and then overall, as a fully realised whole–but its most impressive feature is that it manages to be a page-turner while eschewing the traditional devices we associate with such a book.”
“What is particularly enjoyable as the reader relaxes into this book is the portrayal of the complexity of family life: the layers, secrets and misunderstandings, the drama of different lives lived under the same roof, by people who are both strangers and kin . . . The novel provides an enjoyable nostalgia fest as well as an acute cultural history of provincial England . . . Engrossing, amusing and moving.”
“Beautifully written . . . as impressive in its scope as in the effortless artistry of the language. Its characters are well-defined and plausible, while the narrative is leavened with deftly observed humour that gently pokes its lower-middle-class protagonists in the ribs . . . The plot charges along and boasts some supremely assured dialogue . . . Occasionally earthy and always entertaining.”
–Scotland on Sunday
“Like life, The Northern Clemency consists of many overlapping, intersecting and interdependent smaller plots, which are both individually and collectively enthralling, sometimes sad, and often very funny . . . Hensher doesn’t labour the period detail, and the reader is soon absorbed into the everyday but engrossing lives of his characters.”
“A fluent and immensely readable piece of work, sustained by a pleasure in its details . . . There is a timelessness about Hensher’s vision that is quite unusual these days, suggesting a quietly desperate but stable Englishness that carries on unchanged beneath a surface that is slowly becoming a little more glitzy, a little richer . . . Hensher’s strength is in the subtlety of his character development.”