The Northern Clemency

by Philip Hensher | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 9780007174799 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingCross-patchwing of Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on 10/31/2008
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6 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Friday, October 31, 2008
This is a hefty tome - 700+ pages. I have bought it to be read and then sent on a linked ring around Europe with the other shortlisted novels for the 2008 Booker Prize.

Journal Entry 2 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Friday, November 28, 2008
taken from Amazon review

An ambitious novelist who attempts something on as broad canvas as Philip Hensher does here is a rarity – add to that a fastidious attention to period (i.e. 1970s) detail, and – most daunting of all – a large panoply of points of view, shared among several protagonists. But in The Northern Clemency, Hensher accomplishes all of that – and more – with both precision and panache.
Essentially, this is an (upmarket) family saga, detailing the lives of a pair of families who live on opposite sides of a street in Sheffield in the 1970s, bringing to life a host of characters whose problems – and ultimate destines – both disturb and move the reader. Philip Hensher couches all of this in prose that performs a fascinating balancing act: it is as descriptive and nuanced as one might wish, but it is also extremely refined -- in the sense that there is nary a wasted word; everything here absolutely justifies its place, and Hensher suggests to the careful reader that he has lavished the most forensic of attention on the craft of his novel.

Perhaps the perfect audience for The Northern Clemency is the modern reader who has lamented that contemporary fiction lacks the heft and reach of the great novelists of the past. Such a reader will find that a taste for the substantial is more than fulfilled by Hensher’s highly accomplished saga.

Journal Entry 3 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Wednesday, December 17, 2008
It was well worth the journey through all those pages; this is an evocative trawl through social history of Midland England of the last quarter of a century, showing how the world has truly moved on. So, it is now time to set it on its way.

The shipping order will be as follows:-

katrinat
Laui
franaloe
Sternschnuppe28
iliotropio
Xeyra - moved to allow for exams!
Lucy-lemon
wanderingstar8
...
back to me.

I do hope you all enjoy it as much as I did, and I intend to have another read of it when it returns!


Journal Entry 4 by katrinat from Southend-on-Sea, Essex United Kingdom on Saturday, December 20, 2008
This arrived today, it's huge!! Hopefully I'll get started on it after christmas and send it off early in the new year

Journal Entry 5 by katrinat from Southend-on-Sea, Essex United Kingdom on Saturday, January 31, 2009
This took me a long time to read, mainly due to the awkward bulk of it. However I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author. Off to next person

Journal Entry 6 by Laui from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Just this week I was quite convinced it had got lost *somewhere* in the mail, but here it is! It was a bit gnawed on by the mailman, but it is really minor (unfortunately it's on the front cover, though), just a little scratch. Otherwise The Northern Clemency is really fine! Thanks for sending. Just *phew* it's here!

Thanks for the 'Paperback book swap', too! I first thought you'd left something in by accident, but on second thought I decided it was intentional.

It's HUGE, this one, so I'll try to read it within a month, but I'm not sure if I'll make it. Feel free to nudge/poke me when I'm taking longer than expected. I'll keep you all posted!

Update March 14:
I'm over halfway, so it is promising, but I'm not really eager to finish it. It is written in such a way that it is easy to read rather quickly. But still the whole story does not really interest me. Some things are just to vague, and other things I cannot be bothered with. It seems there's not really a point to it. I'm confident though that I'll finish it within the month, but I'm afraid this one's not really for me.

Journal Entry 7 by Laui from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Finally, I've finished! I got really stuck in the 80's and at the sheer insanity of some of the characters, it was quite a challenge to get through.

I'm not sure whether I liked it. I hated the quantity, it's insane to write a book of more than 700 pages and I don't think I'll voluntarily read something this huge again. But I'm really impressed by the writing style, it's a relative quick read. I'm not really fond of historic novels, I can manage some, but I've been having a bit of trouble with this one. All in all I have to conclude that I think this book is not really for me, though I'm not really able to explain why exactly not.

I've got Franaloe's address, and I think I'll mail it on tomorrow (the post office is closed already). Thanks for sharing this one!

Journal Entry 8 by Laui at per Post, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases on Thursday, March 26, 2009

Released 10 yrs ago (3/26/2009 UTC) at per Post, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

Mailed out to franaloe today.

Parcy.nl/TNT track & trace code: 3skr08703844 (Franaloe or me can fill it in if it takes way too long to arrive at her place)

Journal Entry 9 by franaloe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Monday, March 30, 2009
Yo, the book made it to the island. We're lucky to have a huge mailbox, though...holymoly!
I guess there's nothing else to do but to start reading...


edit 17-04-2009: I'm half way...

Journal Entry 10 by franaloe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Wohoooo! Finished! What a book, increadible! So many pages...
OK, so, first the positive things. I very much like the style. Despite the amount of pages, this book is a relatively quick read. Easy to read on, nice phrases, good to follow the story, etc. Well done, worth its position on the shortlist.
But then, what is the story? You get to follow a lot of people, get to know a lot about them, how they are related, what they are doing, who they are talking to, what exactly they have said to who, how their house looks like, what they are wearing, what their favorite drink is...too many details! Too many conversations! This book seems to be filled with with with facts, it is the daily life of two families in Sheffield, and in the story also the boring days have been reported in detail. Because I couldn't tell waht the story would have been, really. It is basically just a description of the activities of two neighbouring families.
Strange...Can't really give the book a grade because of that. I understand that it has been shortlisted, I do'n understand that how the thickness of the book could have contributed to its quality...oh well...

I've sent Xeyra a PM to ask if she's ready for this one, and will send it on as soon as I hear from her.

Journal Entry 11 by franaloe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Saturday, May 02, 2009
On its way to Sternschnuppe28. Xeyra asked to be skipped for the moment as she is too busy studying at the moment. Ask again later whether she still wants to read the book or not!
Good travels.

Journal Entry 12 by Sternschnuppe28 from Flörsheim am Main, Hessen Germany on Wednesday, May 13, 2009
what a thick book! actually less pages than I thought - thanks for sending!

Journal Entry 13 by Sternschnuppe28 from Flörsheim am Main, Hessen Germany on Saturday, August 15, 2009
I tried to get through the book several times, but now decided to let it go. Made it up till page 300. The language and story are not that bad, I am just not in the mood for it.

I skipped iliotropio, Xerya and Lucy-Lemon, after getting the approval by Cross-patch and will send the book off to wanderingstar8 today. The book should then be sent back to Cross-Patch first. Enjoy!

Journal Entry 14 by wanderingstar8 from London, Greater London United Kingdom on Saturday, August 29, 2009
Wow, a hardback. Thanks so much to everyone for sending it around the ring! I love the epigram.

Journal Entry 15 by wanderingstar8 from London, Greater London United Kingdom on Sunday, December 13, 2009
Wow, I hadn't realised I'd had the book quite so long. Apologies - partly it's because it's too heavy for me to carry around during the day, and partly because I have less time to read these days than I used to. (I've had to give up bookrings for this exact reason).

However, I am glad I read this, although I think the book does have flaws.

My review:

This brick of a book (750+ pages) follows the stories of two families growing up across the street from each other in 1970s Sheffield, and of the other lives which intertwine with theirs over the next 20 years. Within each section of the book, the reader is plunged into a dense network of daily detail, but several years go by between sections.

You might be able to guess from this that the book is more about the passage of time than individual personalities. The upward mobility of the two families comes to stand in for the upward mobility of the whole country's self-image, along with the shift in virtues from thrift to display.

This is also one of those books where details of furniture, clothing or language are used to identify the social status and aspirations of the characters. The 1970s seem to be drawn in more detail than later decades, although since I'm not old enough to remember them I don't know how accurate the depiction is - it seems spot-on but it may only be a good depiction of stereotypes about the 1970s. In particular, the focus is on the way that old certainties and traditions are beginning to show little cracks, indicating the seismic social shifts to come.

There were lots of things I enjoyed about this book. Despite its length, it's a page-turner, and there is a lot of dry wit - including a few occasions when I laughed out loud. (Katherine becomes obsessed with Nick to the point that she can't stop talking about him. At the same time, her youngest son is monomaniacal, in the way small boys can be, about snakes: "At first Jane felt that she would never get on with her mother's conversation, the way you waited for Nick to enter it at any moment, but time wore down anything. Soon it was the same as Tim's dreaming evocation of snakes, his paragraphs of detail and longing, and they divided the long evenings between them like a pair of madmen supervising the silent sane.") The painful adolescences of the children are also very well drawn.

However, there were two big problems for me with the book. The first is that the characters, by and large, feel like representatives of types rather than real people. This meant that I didn't particularly care about them. For example, there is a scene where Katherine's husband, long into their marriage, comforts her after a life-shattering embarrassment by encouraging her to look through the family's old photograph albums. This should have been an incredibly moving incident - quietly demonstrating his delicacy, tact, and concern for her - but I didn't have the emotional engagement for it to be so.

The second is that since the story is really about the larger social changes, there's not a lot of structure, and this is most obvious at the end of the book. Hensher brings it to a fairly artificial climax. I can't help thinking it might have been better if he'd kept the focus on the 1970s and thought more about the characters as people.

Many thanks to Cross-patch - on the way back to you now!

Journal Entry 16 by wingCross-patchwing from Leicester, Leicestershire United Kingdom on Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Thank you wanderingstar8, The Northern Clemency has found its way home. I loved your parcel, all covered with beatiful Chinese stamps - I shall have to treat it with great respect. Does anyone collect stamps? And also, thankyou for some welcome BC labels. I have enjoyed the many and varied comments you have all made and wish to thank everybody for making this a happy and successful ring; I hope to reread this book and then get it on its way again.

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