At the end of last year I rather rashly pledged myself to take part in the Library Challenge. My first library book of the year is The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher. This was shortlisted for the 2008 Booker prize and was one of the few on the list I wanted to read.
It’s a massive book, 738 pages of it and considering that it’s hard to manage such a heavy book when prone in bed, I read it quite quickly. Now I’m left wondering exactly what sort of book it is. The author gives the answer himself at one point; ‘it’s about people like us’. Oh dear me yes, this novel tells a story, about two generations of two families from the 1970s to the present. I rather feared it might be one of those zeitgeist-y books egged with references to Angel Delight and Vesta curries in order to press the right buttons for a certain readership. I’m pleased to say that Hensher is too good a writer for that and political landmarks like the miners’ strike fit naturally into the characters’ lives.
The action is set mostly in Sheffield, with some scenes in London and Sydney. There’s a wide cast of characters, some more interesting than others, some more interesting as children than as adults (just like life?). There are good things in it; I particularly liked the contrast between the staged English Civil War battle re-enactment in one section of the book and the real battle at Orgreave. It is really a chronicle of birth, marriage and death, with a Life Is Sweet moral to it. I prefer books (unless they’re 19th century, or The Bonfire of the Vanities) to be shorter, punchier and weirder, which is why I think Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club beats this hollow.
Here’s my next selection from the library.
I may not read them all, so no commitments. I thought I’d try an Agatha Raisin book, since someone commented here that they were awful. I’ve never met Inspector Peach, so I’ll give him a go. The titles you can’t read (that plastic covering) are A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair and Monica Dickens’ Mariana, both published by Persephone. I’m delighted to see the library is now stocking some Persphone books. I’m currently enjoying The Camel Bookmobile.