By January 8, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

The Northern Clemency

The Northern Clemency CoverThe Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. I was feeling the need to read something new, and this one came across my path in all of its 500+ page glory.

I dug in and really started enjoying myself. It took me too long to read, but I also couldn’t put it down. Right off, I started comparing it to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, of which I was not a fan (I am in the minority, I realize). The Northern Clemency, though, is about two families in Sheffield, England starting in 1974, during Thatcher’s reign and moving forward into Blair’s early years. Like Franzen’s book, Hensher’s novel is sprawling, detailed, ambitious in scope and design.

Focusing on neighboring families, the Glovers and the Sellers, the novel moves between the parents and children and each family, delving into the private habits, interactions and dramas that shape them. Sheffield is an industrial town, and a mining strike in the ’80s provides the backdrop for a good portion of the book. The Sellers move there from London, and it takes their children a while to adjust to the Sheffield way of speaking. The Glovers have three children: Daniel, Jane and Tim; the Sellers have two: Sandra and Francis. Their lives intersect in interesting ways, and not always as expected.

Hensher writing is superbly nuanced and detailed. He makes the relative mundanity of these family’s lives almost compulsively readable. Hensher draws us into these families through their conversations, meals, and schoolyard games, until you feel as though you know them as least as well as your own. You begin to care about the characters and want to know where life takes them.

For book groups who appreciate sprawling literary evocations of familial drama, should try The Northern Clemency.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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