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3.4 out of 5 stars
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3.4 out of 5 stars
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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 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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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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on 5 October 2016
This is a poor book - clumsy writing, awful dialogue, and, throughout, a sense of insincerity. It is as though the author has created characters so that he may feel superior to them. The story creaks along, has a few cheap 'shocking' moments, and then, well, doesn't really do anything.

It is possible that if he had made this about one third of the length he could have created something telling and sharp.Instead, it is just flabby posturing.
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on 10 October 2011
The Northern Clemency is one of my stand-out books of recent years and I was very much looking forward to the follow-up. This book did not disappoint. Other reviewers have summarised the plot and so there is no need for me to do so here, suffice it to say that this is an absolute treat of a book - utterly wonderful writing that manages to combine humour, poignancy, plot, incredible characterisation and great insight. Often it was just the little things that stood out - almost throwaway lines that on rereading revealed an incredible insight into the human character (for example when Billa decides to accept Sylvie's invitation back to her house as she can't face the thought of going home) or quirkiness (Hettie's dolls and their bizarre names, and the Viking funeral). My book of the year so far and I cannot wait to see what the author is going to do next. Surely Philip Henshall is a Booker winner in waiting.
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on 3 April 2013
One should always be wary of back cover reviews of a book that refer to the author relishing his own cleverness. In the case of this book what we have is a strange mixture of little plot or consistent narrative mixed with, seemingly, some unpleasant characterisation. Furthermore I live in the actual Devon town on which this book is based and feel sorry for some of the people who are written about in this book very unflatteringly and without much disguise. Great writers don't try to be 'clever'; they just write great stories. This one isn't much of a story or piece of literature.
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on 23 February 2013
Not sure what to make of this book. First I've read by Philip Hensher and I can't say I particularly enjoyed it although it did engage me. It is very well written, with characters that come to life and lots of brilliantly observed descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life.
The English are shown up to be petty, eavesdropping, gossipy and small minded through his depiction of the good residents of Hanmouth. Pretty accurate I would say, but as I find those elements of our national psyche pretty unattractive, I found it hard to be amused by their goings on.
I didn't like any of the characters but I didn't feel Hensher liked any of them either. He seemed to me to have written the whole thing from a superior, judgemental standpoint.
I thought the book was interestingly constructed - I liked the way he interlinked the stories with a mixture of short and long sections and gave you an insight into the idiosyncrasies of each character at some point in the book. And it is no mean feat to create such an extensive and diverse range of characters and give them all something that keeps the reader interested throughout.
There were lots of clever scenes - a couple that appealed to me were Miranda's 'honest' talk to the new students and their parents and David writing fake English novels for Japanese girls to carry around. And I thought 'Lord What-A-Waste' was exactly the kind of name people in a town like Hanmouth would have thought up for an attractive guy who was batting for the home team.
Presumably the Neighbourhood Watch guy with the penchant for 'comic' accents (don't we all know someone like that?) was intentionally named John Calvin? The uneasy tension between the hedonists and puritans seemed to be a big theme of the book. Similar tensions seemed to exist between the chavs and the chav nots (or not-chavs) and between the locals and the metropolitans.
John Calvin also seemed to be connected to another big theme - that we are constantly under surveillance, which often leads to judgement. Technology is only the tip of this particular iceberg; the characters in the book are relentlessly observed and gossiped about by their neighbours. I live in a small town and the claustrophobic, inward looking attitudes that can develop when people's immediate environment becomes their whole world were very familiar.
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on 24 December 2013
King of the Badgers begins well, and one is led to expect a kind of social comedy, with shrewd, if acerbic, observation of different characters in a smallish seaside town. The tone then becomes grimmer with the account of a supposed abduction of a little girl. After this the novel veers between two sorts of description: of different kinds of surveillance, by CCTV or by curtain-twitchers, and of various gay sexual encounters. The latter practically take over the book, with a gay orgy of tedious length and minimal relevance to anything one had supposed the novel to be addressing. The child turns out not to have been abducted, so the mother is arrested. There is no sympathy for her character or situation, no analysis of her predicament, at all.Then it turns out that the child actually has disappeared, this time really taken by a paedophile. Meanwhile, the numerous middle-class couples, whom I was unable to distinguish from each other, continue to meet and speak, but to no evident purpose. Two people die in a perfunctory way and eventually the child is rescued. There has been no genuine characterisation throughout- a teenage girl who is fairly repulsive at the outset suddenly stops being foulmouthed and behaves in a comparatively civil way, but no explanation is given. Her boyfriend vanishes from the book, as do several other characters, and one woman comes to prominence right at the end after having been cursorily mentioned right at the beginning. People are crazy or nasty or both, and that is roughly the limit of their characters. An uninteresting couple are dismissed to riches after being a bit worried about money and of the abducted and presumably traumatised child we hear no more. What is the point of this book? The only parts written with any gusto are the gay sex scenes. It would have been more honest for Hensher to have confined himself to those and not pretended to have anything to say about any other issues. His account of the abductor's repeated rapes of China, as "made love to the little girl" is presumably supposed to convey the warped consciousness of the paedophile, but it strikes the reader as inadequate, grotesquely tasteless and ultimately unengaged with the ordeal of the child. This is a very disappointing book as Hensher can obviously write, but a novel such as this suggests that neither his sympathies nor his powers of analysis are equal to his writing talent.
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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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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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