Books, life the universe

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Northern Clemency

The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher was a contender for this year's Man Booker prize though it didn't win. I was attracted by its cover - not always a reliable way to pick one's reading matter.
In this case it didn't let me down. This is a panoramic novel covering 20 years in the life of two families - the Glovers and the Sellers - who live opposite each other in a Sheffield suburban street. Their day to day lives are covered in great detail - boring to some but I found it enthralling. The writing is excellent and the characters come to life on the page. Nothing earth shattering happens - there's a serious illness towards the end of the book, a near divorce and involvement in a court case and some deaths of mainly minor characters which are not described in detail. There are misunderstandings and misconnections, people fall out and drift apart and they agonise over trivial decisions. Plans are made and abandoned and hobbies are pursued with more or less enthusiasm.
The period covered by the novel is the mid 1970's to the mid 1990's and the miner's strike has a part to play in the lives of some, though not all, the characters. It is reminiscent of nineteenth century novelists such as Dickens and deserves to become a classic in its own right.
My only complaints about the novel are that at 738 pages it is physically difficult to read and whilst the book is divided into 5 sections it doesn't have chapters as such - making it difficult to decide where to stop reading.

No comments: