Friday, December 10, 2010
The Northern Clemency
I have to warn you I'm going to need some extra adjectives here. I might be saying brilliant, wonderful, impressive and glorious so often that I have to resort to using multi-layered as well. Let me apologize in advance for that. I've read The Northern Clemency (picked up solely because it is so very extra chubby) by Philip Hensher and it is fantastic. You can stop reading my puny writing now and go get a copy of it if you want. I won't be insulted.
Clemency starts out in 1970's Sheffield and follows two families:the Glovers and the Sellers. Malcolm and Katherine Glover have three children and have been Sheffield staples forever. Bernie and Alice Sellers, parents of two, are recent arrivals having moved to Sheffield from London for Bernie's new job. The day the Sellers move in Malcolm accuses his wife of having an affair and disappears. The next twenty years bring other catastrophes and passing cruelties both personal and nation wide that have lasting effects on both families.
This a War and Peace type of novel only without all the war part. Clemency is not only concerned with the events of its characters lives but it also details the physical, social, economic and political world they inhabit. Nothing happens in a vacuum in The Northern Clemency. It's a big novel that charts the internal and external world of two generations in one community. A cross section. This is the book for someone who wants to be entertained and at the same time come away with a complete portrait of the times.
Hensher has a firm grip on this tremendous slice of life novel and yet he makes it all feel very organic and realistic. It's as if the neighborhood gossip were giving you the straight skinny over a drink while you perused the March 1973 edition of Ladies Home Journal (Speaking of which a little Can This Marriage Be Saved would not have gone amiss here.) rather than an extremely talented writing is behind it all plotting away, pulling strings and researching every visual element of 70's and 80's decor and food. Nothing occurs in The Northern Clemency that doesn't have repercussions. From the minutiae of day to day domestic life to the events of the time that were felt across the country everything is put into his microscope, inspected and then brought to our attention with magnificent writing.
I was totally impressed and after one quick phone call my local independent bookstore has ordered me an earlier novel written by Philip Hensher, The Mulberry Empire. Yippee!