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The Northern Clemency Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 30, 2008
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Amazon Best of the Month, November 2008: The Northern Clemency begins at the perimeter of a late-summer party, amidst a din of neighbors gossiping one moment and navigating awkward silences the next. But once you encounter the Glover family--in particular, their languidly handsome teenage son Daniel--there's no turning back. The story that follows calls to mind novels by some of our best-loved family chroniclers--John Updike and Jonathan Franzen, to be sure, as well as Ian McEwan and Anne Tyler--and Hensher wrestles with the familiar notions of love and fidelity in ways that are appreciably unpredictable. His characters observe themselves and the ones closest to them in earnest, revealing facts and fallacies of their ordinary lives that make them extraordinarily real people to the reader. Hensher's style (which earned him a spot on the Man Booker Prize shortlist) is among the many qualities that make this novel shine. It's wonderfully paced with language so beautiful and brutally honest that you'll find it hard not to start furiously underlining passages, particularly those about the city of Sheffield, whose families witness "the last phase of its industrial greatness" in 1974 and begin to experience the intensifying class wars that ensue. Though finely tuned to this point in time, and the following two decades, The Northern Clemency rings with the universal truth that family makes no sense, and yet makes all the sense in the world. --Anne Bartholomew
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, Hensher's Sheffield-set suburban drama spans 20 years in the lives of two neighboring families: the Sellers and the Glovers. Katherine Glover's husband, Malcolm, assuming Katherine has been cheating on him, disappears the night before the Sellers arrive in Sheffield. Katherine confides her troubles in her new neighbor, Alice Sellers, and Malcolm quickly returns. Alice's daughter, Sandra, meanwhile, forms unlikely relationships with Katherine's two sons: one a friendship and one a doomed unrequited love sparked by a thoughtless act between two children. Epic in scale but more modest in its focus, Hensher presents a trove of insular, often obsessive characters; the narrative's wide-ranging perspective shifts between the minds of not only the Glovers and Sellers but also their neighbors, classmates and assorted others. Margaret Thatcher's impact comes to the fore during the miner's strike of 1984 and the subsequent privatization of the industry, but the novel's focus remains on domestic drama: the unease and desperation of adolescence, and the seemingly unbridgeable distances between parents, children, siblings and spouses.
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Top customer reviews
If the purpose of the book was to make a social statement about inner England and those that live in the semis of its streets then it fails because nothing in any of the lives of the two fetured families goes anywhere beyond the totally mundane. Alice's misfortune just peters out. Nick's court case - we never find out what happened to him - he just is never mentioned any more. Nothing joins up but the most tedious part for me was just that, it is utterly tedious and pointless. It's like a couple of housewives standing in their back gardens gossiping (for a VERY long time) over their fences. And as for the ending - well, there isn't one. It just stops.
I will now think of The Northern Clemency along with my other favorite family sagas--Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, and Vikram Seth's An Unsuitable Boy. But this one isn't set against a significant historical or or cultural context; rather it is the ordinariness of these families (with their own quirks and differences, small things that happen to them, but no big plot) that makes Hensher's accomplishment of creating a world that's so involving quite amazing.
Telling us TWICE that Sydney is 'like a Sheffield that has died and gone to heaven' and giving us plainly contradictory facts about a character within two pages is something an editor should correct.
Worth reading, but ultimately disappointing.
If you enjoy stories about every day life then you'll probably like this.
Most recent customer reviews
It’s a slow start in rather flat prose until page 161. Then it livens up.Read more