the northern clemency by Philip Hensher
Synopsis (from back cover): In 1974, the Sellers family is transplanted from London to Sheffield in northern England. On the day they move in, the Glover household across the street is in upheaval: convinced that his wife is having an affair, Malcolm Glover has suddenly disappeared. The reverberations of this rupture will echo through the years to come as the connection between the families deepens.
First line: “So the garden of number eighty-four is nothing more than a sort of playground for all the kids of the neighbourhoods?”
Review: I read this novel because it appeared (seemingly out of no where) at the very top of Amazon’s Editor’s Picks for Best Fiction of 2008. Number one, mind you! And the cover pronounces that it was short-listed for the Man Booker award (so apparently folks across the pond knew about it).
I knew nothing when I began the novel and found it very readable. As I’ve stated many times before, I love character-driven fiction and this is certainly that. In fact, that’s actually all it is! And I thought it might be a good selection for discussion questions, but I think the length may deter many book clubs. Also, the plot synopsis above is pretty misleading (since it implies a plot), and this might be a difficult novel to actually discuss.
The novel follows the lives of a handful of families, living in northern England, as they have children, get older, retire, watch their children get older, and… then it ends. Now, the characters are interesting, but are also very, very “normal.”
It is interesting to watch the cycle of a life — even a rather uneventful life — but I kept wondering if something else was going to happen. Since I prefer character development over plot, I wasn’t necessarily expecting a plane crash or a terrorist attack, but it was a little strange to spend four days with a group of people without the expected plot devices of rising action, climax, falling action, denouement, etc…
Now, if the writing is well-crafted or exceptional the content isn’t that important to me. And the writing was strong, but not necessarily exceptional. I never read a sentence that I wanted to pause and contemplate, but I also never dreaded picking up the novel, either.
I guess I’m just not sure why Amazon put it on the top 10 (nevermind number one), but I did enjoy it and would recommend it. However, at 596 pages, it is a bit of a commitment and if — at 50 pages — you are wondering if anything is going to happen, then you might not want to continue. In other words, your opinion at page 50 will probably hold true to the very end.
Anyone else try this one yet? I found another review of the northern clemency at the Millions, too — for another perspective…
If you think you might like to give it a go, simply drop me a comment! Now, since I am somewhere between Amsterdam and Khartoum right now, I won’t be able to choose a winner until I return on the 23rd…