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3.4 out of 5 stars
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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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on 7 May 2011
Having just finished the wondrous 'Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet' by David Mitchell, I was attracted by the sparkling reviews for this novel in the Sundays. I've just abandoned the book at page 50 or so having found it unreadable. I very, very rarely abandon a novel but here the writing is so clumsy, with poorly constructed, ugly sentences that seem to have got past the cursory attentions of an editor. Hensher's characterization has no inner life, with descriptions straight from the column inches of a 'satirical' journalist. Everything is built up in thick layers of entirely predictable, lumpish detail with a fair bit of spitefulness in the treatment of an unsuspecting underclass. The whole thing is dreary, dreary, dreary. No wonder I find more satisfaction in US and Commonwealth writing. Thank goodness we have writers like Mitchell and Hensher's work is not perceived as the best of British. Am I seeing things when one respected reviewer compared this with George Eliot. Has the world gone mad.
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on 7 July 2012
After his Sheffield saga THE NORTHERN CLEMENCY, Philip Hensher relocates to a small select township on the Bristol Channel with KING OF THE BADGERS (where does he get these weird titles from?). I'm sure many readers will take a guess at where Hanmouth is meant to be.

The book begins with the disappearance of an 8-year-old girl from the council estate on the outskirts. The case seems to fizzle out until a surprise discovery much later in the story. What Hensher concentrates on is giving a picture of the criss-crossing lives of the middle-class retirees and shop-keepers on the best street in town. Some of these are people one would be happy to have as neighbours; others are not. There are several busybodies, including the obnoxious organizer of Neighbourhood Watch (Hanmouth is heavily watched by CCTV). One couple are living way beyond their means.

Blessed are the cheese-makers! The gay proprietor of the cheese-shop and his chum host an orgy for their "Bear" friends which the author describes in choreographic rather than pornographic detail. One of the guests, the visiting son of neighbours, is a sad fat queen with a hopeless crush on a hunky Italian who's sponging off him shamelessly.

This is a big sprawling novel that often wanders into James Joyce/Virginia Woolf 'stream of consciousness' writing that I would have preferred to see less of. It's at its best as a kind of rustic soap opera, a literary street scene like a Breugel or Lowry painting brought to life. 'All human life is there.' Didn't that use to be the motto of a Sunday newspaper? I wonder what happened to it!
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I think I was one of the few people who loved Hensher's previous novel, "The Northern Clemency", devouring it in a couple of days on holiday a few years ago. "King of the Badgers" is, in some respects, more of the same, but there are crucial differences, not least of which is the fact that it is significantly shorter.

The book is split into three main sections. In the first a young girl disappears from the town, apparently abducted, and the plot covers the search. The novel concentrates on the people living in the coastal town where she lives and gradually paints a picture of their lives and relationships, and how her disappearance affects them all. In the second section the story switches to a gay couple planning a party / orgy, and although there are very strong scenes involved the writing is amusing. Finally the story returns to the disappearance of the girl and the repercussions of the orgy within the community.

If the middle section was maybe cut down a little this could make a good mini-series, but as a novel I found it very enjoyable and it certainly kept me turning the pages during the day it took me to read. I did feel that the storyline about the girl was somewhat predictable at first but then events took a turn and the eventual outcome was more of a surprise, although somewhat cursorily dealt with. The conclusion of the novel also seemed slightly bizarre, as though Hensher didn't quite know how to end it, so it does seem to just stop in its tracks in some respects, and as mentioned before some will find the party scene just over half way through a little too strong. Despite these issues and the fact that I felt it wasn't as good as "The Northern Clemency" I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and it was one of the better ones I read on holiday this year.
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on 6 November 2011
This is the first Philip Hensher book I have read, and as a result The Northern Clemency is certainly on my reading list. Just not really near the top. I really do intend to read it, I'm just not sure when. And that kind of reflects how I felt at the end of Kind of the Badgers. I feel compelled into descriptions like 'entertaining', which nowadays is really damning with faint praise... I really did like this book, I wanted to love it, but found I just didn't care that much about the characters at the end of it. I really admire the attempt to create a Dickens-style picture of an entire society in microcosm, with all of the little glances, random encounters and unseen connectedness that we marvel at as the omniscient narrator swoops us around this imaginary coastal town, in through a window here to snoop on a conversation,into the thoughts of a married man as he boards a train for London...lives are woven together with a skill that is to be admired, but I couldn't help feeling that the author was not particularly compassionate about his characters.
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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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(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, Hensher proves to be an equal-opportunity satirist. The novel opens with the disappearance of China O'Connor, a child of about ten who vanishes while on an errand. She has been living 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 most of the text is devoted to the development of the characters in the town and their interrelationships. The disappearance becomes secondary to the development of atmosphere, social snobbery, and depiction of Hanmouth life. 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. He has enlisted Mauro, an opportunistic but "suitable" gay man to pretend to be his partner when David visits his parents. (This section also includes a gay orgy which stretches the boundaries between realism and pornography.) Part III moves to academia, among other settings, and the issues facing Miranda, a member of the university faculty from Hanmouth, but the author also brings continuing threads up to date-the increase of cameras as part of Neighborhood Watch, the increasing intrusion of government on privacy, the deaths of several people the reader has come to know, and the outcome of China's disappearance.

Hensher is a master of dialogue, with his characters often talking at cross purposes, or talking with the kind of abbreviated dialogue spoken by intimate friends or partners. Description is vivid and memorable. In talking of Micky, the "stepfather" of the missing China, Hensher says, "His bun-like face was not made bewildered by grief or fear. That was what he looked like." David was described as "clinging to his mother's girdle-straps," and Mr. Calvin's wife as looking like "a prize turnip."

Ironies combine with satire to create constant surprises, and though the author sometimes gets carried away with his own interests and forgets the novel's big picture (and the mysterious disappearance of the child), the book does create a vibrant and unforgettable picture of life in a small town in Devon in which the have-nots are simply not recognized. The book is hard to put down, and as the characters develop into real people, they exert their own charms on the reader, however uncharming they might be in personality. The threats to personal liberty and privacy have never seemed so imminent, and as the Neighborhood Watch cameras become ubiquitous, the reader cannot help but picture the ironic excesses of a Brave New World come to rural Devon. A surprising novel of contemporary life. Mary Whipple
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on 31 March 2016
This is really beautifully written, and I enjoyed the setting, the story and the characters. It is, however, flawed. There is some heart in it, but it's somewhat overruled by snark. I'm not sure who Hensher actually likes. His characters are all mocked, amusingly, but I feel somewhat sorry for them, as the author doesn't see much good in any of them. He also has an annoying preoccupation with CCTV cameras. I really don't care about them as much as he did, and therefore I feel some key points of the story were lost on me. I did enjoy it overall, but would have liked to see a bit more love in it.
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on 4 May 2011
This is a book I regret buying. Presumably it is meant to describe what happens when we scratch the surface of an apparently normal social and working environment and relegate the key elements of the story into the background. Why on earth the author's colleagues in his own university got so excited about it I can't imagine, the relevant parts sounded a pretty normal caricature for a university to me. It added little to my experience of people and events. Overall, I can find little merit in it and am lost as to why others seem to rave about it.King of the Badgers
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