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King of the Badgers: A Novel Hardcover – September 13, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“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

About the Author

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First American Edition edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865478635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865478633
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,008,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Mary O'donnell on July 25, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Philip Hensher's "King of the Badgers" is a challenging, enjoyable, deftly written exploration of class and punishment in contemporary Britain. Set in a smug-beyond-belief Southern English enclave of PC behaviour and middle-class correctness, it manages to deal with tragedy and yet - on several occasions - be both amusing and enlightening. Hensher has written a work that, incidentally, deals with gayness (among other things), yet avoids any possiblity of this ever being pigeonholed under the heading 'gay fiction'. It is not. This is a global take on what happens and the different perspectives that shift into the light, when the child of a working-class mother disappears without trace. The sifting within a community regarding who might be to blame, the way official forces are equally prey to misreading the evidence (on the basis of social prejudice), is rivettingly brought to light, and responses to class and origin are alarmingly predictable. As the various characters surrounding the subtly-handled drama of the missing child shift forward and are each illuminated in all their (frequent) inglory, the reader is also drawn along, absorbed at the manner in which ordinary town life settles once again over all kinds of atrocity, like a quiet pond on a breezeless day. The moral centre of the novel is herself young - an awkward, interesting teenager - and in the middle of all the posturing self-absorption of so many adults, she achieves a particular radiance towards the end of the narrative. Henscher's characters as portrayed within this very pluralistic and liberal community, are human and real, disappointing as well as sometimes delightful, full of the blithe egotism and self-delusion we all carry some of the time regarding ourselves.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) Though controversial author/critic Philip Hensher is not without his detractors, this book is an utterly compelling work of social criticism, a classic example of the best of social satire. Focusing on the lives of the long-time residents of Hanmouth in Devon, a community which has recently expanded and now includes less-educated, less affluent people who live in a council estate, the novel opens with the disappearance of China O'Connor, a child of about ten who has been living in the council estate with her mother, a 27-year-old hairdresser, her three siblings, and her "third stepfather," age twenty. The disappearance shocks the community, where the "elite" have never before had to deal with sordid issues like this, and many resent the time and effort the town has expended to find the child. The Hanmouth book club holds its discussion of a Japanese novel as scheduled, and the rest of the "old" community goes about their lives, which have been little changed by events--except, of course, by the influx of reporters and the unwashed public.

Divided into three parts, the first part concerns the search for China O'Connor, though the disappearance becomes secondary to the development of atmosphere, social snobbery, and local characters, often depicted satirically. Part II has virtually nothing to do with the disappearance. Instead, the book provides a sympathetic and often moving portrait of David, the thirty-six-year-old gay son of Cath Butterworth and her husband Alec. David is fat and lonely, and all he wants is someone to love him. (This section also includes a gay orgy which stretches the boundaries between realism and pornography.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By nobodyleaves on November 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I will preface this by saying Hensher is a brilliantly witty writer. The wit, however, is not enough to save this book. Do not be deceived, the book jacket sells the book as mainly a mystery, IT IS NOT. After engaging the reader for chapters in the kidnapping/disappearance of an eight year old child, the entire story is dropped until almost the end of the book when the story is brought back in as an afterthought. The rest of the novel teaches us that most men are gay, especially the married ones, all gay men are unfaithful, all wives are clueless *rhymes with witches*, fat gay men are unattractive and the few men that aren't gay spend their time sexually molesting little girls. I could have done without being so well-informed. Another reviewer called it "mean spirited" and I believe that to be an understatement. I hate novels that make me feel as if the writer had an axe to grind and decided to write a book to grind it. It's a cheap trick and usually doesn't work. With the talent for wordcraft that Mr. Hensher so obviously has, it's a huge disappointment that he coudn't have applied it to a plot.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By debbie8355 on June 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I really liked the Northern Clemency (I gave it 4 stars) although it was a bit like wading through 700+ pages of hypnotic, literary treacle but this is an absolutely superb book. The King of the Badgers manages to be meandering and completely compelling with a colourful cast of characters from all generations. There's a main suspense filled plot combined with some beautiful writing. It's a fantastic read.

The first thing I did before buying this book was to check how many pages it was and I was relieved it was advertised as 300 pages. I wanted to read a few books on holiday and not be bogged down with one huge novel. However the description is wrong. There are 436 pages in this hardback copy so it may be somewhere in between the slim novel and whale killing edition you're expecting.

There are 3 distinct parts to the book. The first third is most comparable to the Northern Clemency. There are the usual acute observations of behind closed doors family life but in this case the doors are flung wide open with an 8 year old girl China going missing, Shannon Matthews style. The mother is hilariously photographed holding a 'Where is China?' sign. It is perhaps the least compelling part of the book observing the police and press conferences and there is nothing to like or hold your interest about tragic China's family. It felt like the least involving, couldn't really be that concerned about them, parts of the Northern Clemency.

It's set in the modern day fictional North Devon town of Hanmouth. The time line is fairly short so thankfully it's not an epic trawl through the decades.

The quick 'insert here a paragraph' story snippets of political info were a little lecturing and grating e.g.
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