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The Northern Clemency [Paperback]

Philip Hensher
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 April 2009


An epic chronicle of the last twenty years of British life from the Booker shortlisted and Granta Best of Young British novelist, Philip Hensher.

Beginning in 1974 and ending with the fading of Thatcher's government in 1996, ‘The Northern Clemency’ is Philip Hensher's epic portrait of an entire era, a novel concerned with the lives of ordinary people and history on the move.

Set in Sheffield, it charts the relationship between two families: Malcolm and Katherine Glover and their three children; and their neighbours, the Sellers family, newly arrived from London so that Bernie can pursue his job with the Electricity Board. The day the Sellers move in there is a crisis across the road: Malcolm Glover has left home, convinced his wife is having an affair. The consequences of this rupture will spread throughout the lives of both couples and their children, in particular ten-year-old Tim Glover, who never quite recovers from a moment of his mother's public cruelty and the amused taunting of fifteen-year-old Sandra Sellers, childhood crises that will come to a head twenty years later. In the background, England is changing: from a manufacturing- and industrial-based economy into a new world of shops, restaurants and service industries, a shift particularly marked in the North with the miners' strike of 1984, which has a dramatic impact on both families.

Inspired by the expansive scale and webs of relationships of the great nineteenth-century Russian novels, ‘The Northern Clemency’ shows Philip Hensher to be one of our greatest chroniclers of English life.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007174802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007174805
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 279,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Hensher has written nine novels, including The Mulberry Empire, the Booker-shortlisted The Northern Clemency, King of the Badgers, and Scenes from Early Life, which won the Ondaatje Prize in 2012. He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Bath Spa and lives in South London and Geneva.

Product Description


‘Lovingly rooted in 1970s and 1980s Sheffield, “The Northern Clemency” effectively reclaimed a lost genre of politically astute, richly decorated provincial family saga for modern readers.’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent (Book of the Year)

‘A tremendous book. Against an unfashionable 1970s background 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 Pullman

‘Wise and strong and unputdownable.’ A.S. Byatt, Financial Times (Book of the Year)

Alex Clark, Sunday Telegraph (Book of the Year)

‘A remarkable novel…a cumulative effect of luminous richness, like a perfect piece of orchestration…something more than brilliant cleverness makes this novel extraordinary.’ Jane Shilling, Sunday Times

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

About the Author

Philip Hensher is a columnist for the Independent, arts critic for the Spectator and a Granta Best of Young British novelist. He has written five novels, ‘Other Lulus’, ‘Kitchen Venom’ (Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), ‘Pleasured’, the Booker-longlisted ‘The Mulberry Empire’ and ‘The Fit’, as well as a collection of short stories, ‘The Bedroom of the Mister's House’. He lives in South London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read - but with some reservations..... 26 Oct 2008
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Northern Clemency takes an ambitious sweep across the decades from the 1970s focussing mainly on two families in Sheffield. At the beginning of the book the Sellers family is newly arrived from London. Bernie works for the Electricity Board while Alice is very much the housewife. Fifteen year old Sandra is a precocious, ill-mannered teenager while her younger brother Francis is quiet and introspective (based on Hensher?) The Glovers are a pretty dysfunctional bunch. Malcolm works for a building society while Katherine stays at home - until she decides to get a part-time job in a newly opened local florists. Their oldest son Daniel is a handsome, sulky boy who spends his free time seducing girls. Jane is comparatively normal while young Timothy is a sad and troubled boy with an obsession with snakes (and a later obsession with Sandra and Marxism).

I was soon sucked into the story and the book became quite hard to put down. The writing is particularly good in the way that the social history of the time - clothes, food, entertainment - is portrayed. He documents council house sales, mobile phones, gastropubs and the changing nature of canapés. Less effective for me were Hensher's characters - only Daniel came really alive, the others were much more two dimensional. And radical Timothy was the least believable character in the book. Some characters were introduced but then dropped so we never met them again (like Andrew hospitalised with a broken leg and Nick the florist cum money launderer).

The book refers to political events of the seventies and eighties in a somewhat oblique way. This works well at one level considering that these were middle-class families but it is hard to believe anyone in Sheffield at the time could have been so unconcerned with the miners' strike or the Falklands War.

Nonetheless this is a good read - and don't be put off by the 700+ pages!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To err is human, to forgive divine 31 Dec 2008
By wabrit
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As there have been many reviews already for this book that have covered the plot, rather than retread that ground I thought it would be better to focus on something else that has received less coverage, namely the title of the book itself and some of the references it makes, particularly as many reviews have expressed puzzlement as to what the book is actually "about".

Why is the book called the Northern Clemency? Well part of that's clear as much of the action is set around Sheffield in a time span running from the 70s to the present day. The other part is less obvious, but as you read this weighty tome (700+ pages) some running themes become apparent, not the least of which is the capability of people to forgive and understand the sometimes hurtful or inexplicable actions of others. Hensher uses an extended cast of characters, mostly drawn from two neighbouring families, around which to weave a plot; the focus switches between the many characters, so that the effect is not a little unlike one of those early-70s Robert Altman ensemble pieces like Nashville or A Wedding, where each character is given the space to develop their own perspective in the mind of the reader/viewer.

The book is divided into four main sections, the last of which has the somewhat initially puzzling title of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. This is actually a reference to a quotation of Sherlock Holmes from The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire ("Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, . . .
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Tushar
The plot is relatively simple - the story of the lives of two neighbouring families in Northern England over three decades (1970s - 1990s) set against the backdrop of social and political changes over this time. There are individual relationships which tie the two families together and ultimately come to defining moments, and quite unpredictable conclusions.

I thought this novel was excellent. The writing style was very easy to read, and the author deftly developed the characters, their personalities and the events which shaped their lives. I found it a real page turner, wanting to desperately find out how the individual characters' lives turned out. The characters were all very believable and each had a fascinating (and yet in some cases very mundane) tale to be told. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys such chronicles and family dramas.

However, be warned - the hardback is very heavy and not to be recommended if you need to carry the book around with you (get the paperback instead)!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and enjoyable 14 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book centres mainly on the lives of 2 families living in Sheffield from the 1970s to date, and explores the ups and downs of the relationships and interactions between each other over the years. By the end of the book you feel that they have been living in your street and known to you since you were a child. It is thoughtful, insightful and totally believable, exploring human nature and each family member's motivations, desires, fears, and perceptions that drive them to behave as they do. It's interesting that these ingredients lead them to behave in a way that seems perfectly logical and reasonable to them at the time, but which may seem outrageous to others.

Initially I found it hard to get going with this book and wondered if it would be too laborious and if I'd ever finish it, especially as it's almost 6cms thick. However, I found myself drawn to reading a few more pages each night without quite knowing why, and by the time I'd reached the end, realised I'd enjoyed it. If you like analysing human behaviour and what motivates people, with a bit of social history thrown in you should enjoy this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Different Class
This book had been sitting on my Kindle for well over a year before I managed to finish it. There'd been a few unsuccessful attempts to start it, but, for some reason, I couldn't... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Etienne Hanratty
5.0 out of 5 stars Hensher at his best
Probably his best book. It's slice of life, recent social history and perhaps slightly semi-autobiographical. Read more
Published 1 month ago by tpryan
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
Excellent read
Published 2 months ago by Boo
2.0 out of 5 stars Treatment of Sheffield is lazy
"his treatment of Sheffield is lazy" "he often reverts to the grossest of sloppy clichés" "writing on the sense of place is often weak" "clumsy... Read more
Published 2 months ago by steve
3.0 out of 5 stars Local flavour
. A good story of Sheffield and a new family's reaction to moving there.An interesting book, lots of local flavour
Published 8 months ago by F A Fisher
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going - a surprisingly dull read for a Hensher book.
I read two earlier novels by Philip Hensher - Pleasured and The Mulberry Empire - with huge enjoyment. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Anthony Rivers
1.0 out of 5 stars Big mistake
The only reason I finished this book was because I dont like to leave a book before the end. It was pretty dire.
Published 17 months ago by Jean Adams
4.0 out of 5 stars Nicely Northern Novel
This is a very enjoyable read. You can sit back and work your way through this chronicle of two families - one from Sheffield and the other, new arrivals from London. Read more
Published 18 months ago by nickyb
1.0 out of 5 stars Gave me mind herpes.
When I opened this book for a sneak preview in my local Waterstones, a foul green gas came spraying out of the pages - and before I knew what had happened, I had inhaled a large... Read more
Published 21 months ago by A. Reviewer
2.0 out of 5 stars Made in Sheffield?
What disappointed me most about The Northern Clemancy was the complete lack of feel for Sheffield in the 70s and 80s. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Chrissy Boy
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