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3.4 out of 5 stars43
3.4 out of 5 stars
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2012
What looks at first to be a straightforward child abduction thriller soon expands into the surreal ,paranoid and downright farcical world of the writer's small town creation.There are many strands to this as the lives of individuals brush against each other,intertwine,or,in some cases,penetrate deeply!!This complexity makes sense at the end but there were times when I was exhausted by the cast of characters and their lives.It was like being on a merry go round of a narrative that threatened to spin out of control,but never did.Ayckbourn on speed! In this whirl,the fate of the child becomes just another detail amongst the minutiae of everyday life,as such events do.At times I nearly gave up on it but,at the end, I was glad that i had persevered.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 December 2012
Almost all of the action in this 436 page novel takes place in a smallish town, Hainmouth, in North Devon. It's the sort of town that attracts reirees from the city, arty types, and a few professionals to serve the local population. All in all, a bit of a melting pot with no small amount of archetypal British snobbery.

There is quite a large cast of characters, all very diverse, and quite a few things happen: a young local girl is abducted; the token gay couple of the town have a big gay night for a select group of friends; a lecturer from the local college pushes boundaries with her boss. In short, everyday local life under a microscope.

Did I enjoy it? Not wholeheartedly, I'm afraid. It felt very bitty - lots of different stories stuck together maybe? There's an abduction story, a gay story, an adolescent story, a bereavement story and the glue that is supposed to stick them all together is that they all live within shouting distance of one another.

I did enjoy the dissection of middle class life: the interactions between people as they either hide or disclose their prejudices is fun and yes, satirical. But I didn't think it was as clever or as brilliant as the blurb on the cover had led me to expect - there are far better published writers - Somerset Maugham and Alice Munro for instance.

So, mixed feelings overall from me - which doesn't mean that you won't enjoy it
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The King of the Badgers shows Philip Hensher at the top of his form. If you liked The Northern Clemency you will love this. Set in a fictional North Devon town, the book is inhabited with a huge range of (mostly awful) characters. On the surface everything seems fairly conventional but it doesn't take much scratching to find out the reality of their lives. In these genteel streets there is adultery, betrayal, cheating, lying, lying and megalomania! Catherine is thrilled that at last her son is coming to visit - and is going to bring his boyfriend. But David never succeeds in attracting a boyfriend and persuades the desirable Mauro to accompany him and pretend to be his partner to please his mother. Kenyon and Miranda seem like the ideal couple except he is having an affair and their daughter is an appalling teenager. Sam is a cheerful owner of a cheese shop in a long-term relationship with Harry but this doesn't prevent them from joining in the local gay couplings. The gay orgies portrayed are shown to be funny but at the same time somewhat pathetic. And then there is John Calvin the mad-as-a-hatter Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator.

The part of the book that is definitely not funny is the disappearance of China, a child from the local housing estate. Actually I retract that statement - there is much comic material here in the attitudes surrounding the disappearance. But the part dealing with what happens to her subsequently is unfunny in the extreme. He uses a different writing style and relates the shocking details as if he were telling a fairy tale.

The whole book buzzes with ideas and observations. Among the choices for Miranda's book group are Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas and The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. (Ye gods, I'd be drummed out of my book group if I made suggestions like these!)

A sharply observed black comedy.

(I wondered about the intriguing title and looked it up on the internet. A few interesting references were found but none explained it completely.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2012
I'm always interested in reading novels that some readers love and others hate--Marmite books, if you like. Since I really liked 'The Northern Clemency' I was pretty sure I would like this too, and I was right. The great things about Hensher is that he's interested in the world around him. Unlike the negative reviewers, I don't think he's in the least contemptuous of his characters: yes, they can be absurd and self-deceiving but many of them are are good-hearted, and capable of love. I think the comparison with George Eliot is apt--this is a panoramic novel with a huge cast of rounded, flawed characters.

Why not five stars, then? In the end I feel the connection between the plot strands is too tenuous--in particular, he seems to lose interest in the plot of the missing girl, which, since it provides the real element of evil in the novel, seems to make it rather less multi-dimensional than it promises to be.

There seem to be some complaints about Hensher's style. I didn't see anything wrong with it. In fact, I can't understand why some readers hate this novel. I do wonder whether it's the unapologetic and explicit gay scenes--but surely we've got beyond all that?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2013
I so much wanted to like this book! And, to an extent, I did: the integration(apart from homophobes like the odious Neighbourhood Watch man) of openly gay characters in the whole,rich community was great to see and well-managed; and there were set pieces of poetic beauty: eg mysterious opening scene on the dark waters, and the Wolf cliffside section.However, I felt there were far too many characters, so that we got rarely developed vignettes(though David, Mauro and, to a degree, Kenyon were quite fully developed characters).Nor did I find the abduction story was as convincingly integrated in the overall compass of the novel. It reminded of Edmund White, but not as emotionally powerful, in its "loose bagginess"; but in White I like that lack of censoring of material and letting it all just be piled in, whereas it didnt quite work as well, in that respect, for me, here.But who am I to say-a massively heroic effort, just by its very execution!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2013
It starts well , is obviously cleverly written , but ,there is something rather unpleasant about the way he tends to sneer at most of the characters in a smug way. And the plot , such as it is , runs out of steam half way through. Not recommended
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2013
We all know unpleasant characters of all social classes exist but it doesn't make for comfortable reading to fill a book with them only to mock them, however good the writing is. I found the tone sneering and did not finish the book.
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on 30 January 2015
Unlike the book group in Hanmouth, where ‘some can’t even finish the book after a month’s notice’, our group read and, monthly, enjoyed this book. Some thought that the author was better than Patrick Gale or Alan Hollinghurst at writing about this sort of setting and more humorous. Many want to read more from him.

Someone who used to live in North Devon said that this place was typical. He thought he knew a Miranda in real life. As in real life, we don’t learn too much detail about people: we only know about them from encounters. ‘It’s like The Archers on speed,’ one said.

There was a good description of Paddington and annoyance at slow people when one is rushing for a train

There were good references to popular culture.

We get stereotypes: upper-middle-class villagers are shallow, selfish, and fat: being lower-class implies you are uneducated, grasping, and willing to do anything; being gay means that you go to wild orgies with drugs. Straights’ are obsessed with anal sex
There is a UKIP tendency: criminals are likely to have black accents and CCTV is mainly to monitor youth.

I liked the notion of Devon as a suburb of London. I disliked the description of Simon Russell Beale as someone of “real quality” because I can’t stand him.

The repetition of ‘He made love to the little girl.’ Was creepy and one person thought that abuse was too serious a topic to weave a humorous story around.

One thought that the chapters were too short and wondered whether the author committed himself to writing a set number of words each day and stopped once that target was met.

There is a seeming absence of proof-reading or editing – someone flew from Rome to London but we are later told it was in the other direction.

It was well-written, so the Americanism of ‘donators’ for ‘donors’ was a little jarring.

We are still not sure as to the origin of the title.
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on 7 October 2013
The King of Badgers astonished me: the novel is an extraordinary exploration of lives in a small seaside town. Hensher's theme is surveillance and observation and through his eyes you sometimes feel as intrusive as the creepily pervasive CCTV that is infesting Hanmouth. There are plenty of comic moments - the grotesque teenage Hettie torturing her dolls, the middle-class book-group whose token conversation about The Book is quickly overtaken by a good gossip, and best of all, in a wonderful centre-piece, an extravagant gay orgy whose preparations mirror those of a polite getting-to-know-you drinks party across the road. But sometimes you can become blind-sided by loss, grief or outrage. The chilling "and then he went down into the cellar and made love to the little girl" left me far more shaken than anything more explicit could have done.

My major criticism would be that a surfeit of characters made me too frequently not know who was who. I felt this loss because those characters I did come to know were rich and interesting folk. A minor criticism is a jarring between the unpleasant Jeremy Kyle-esque world of the O'Connors and the comfortable world of the rest of the cast.

A bracing novel: because of the startling sexual frankness, but also because of it's refusal to blink, when it would have been more comfortable to look away.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2014
Not Hensher's best. But still enjoyable enough. It's themes are CCTV and mIddle class observation with strong gay perspectives throughout. Thought the gay orgy scene was a bit overplayed and I'm not sure a straight writer would have got away with typecasting all the gay men at a dinner party as debauched druggies. But Hensher's a talented writer who can use words to stimulate and entertain in equal measure. Definitely one best modern day writers.
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