The Northern Clemency

Philip Hensher

Beginning in 1974 and ending with the fading of Thatcher’s government in 1996, ‘The Northern Clemency’ is Philip Hensher’s epic portrait of an entire era, a novel concerned with the lives of ordinary people and history on the move.

Set in Sheffield, it charts the relationship between two families: Malcolm and Katherine Glover and their three children; and their neighbours the Sellers family, newly arrived from London so that Bernie can pursue his job with the Electricity Board. The day the Sellers move in there is a crisis across the road: Malcolm Glover has left home, convinced his wife is having an affair. The consequences of this rupture will spread throughout the lives of both couples and their children, in particular 10-year-old Tim Glover, who never quite recovers from a moment of his mother’s public cruelty and the amused taunting of 15-year-old Sandra Sellers, childhood crises that will come to a head twenty years later. In the background, England is changing: from a manufacturing and industrial based economy into a new world of shops, restaurants and service industries, a shift particularly marked in the North with the miners’ strike of 1984, which has a dramatic impact on both families.

Inspired by the expansive scale and webs of relationships of the great nineteenth-century Russian novels, ‘The Northern Clemency’ shows Philip Hensher to be one of our greatest chroniclers of English life.

Reviews of The Northern Clemency

  • ‘Hensher is an anatomist of familial tensions and marshals his large cast of characters deftly. He has an impeccable eye for nuances of character and setting, and the details of Seventies food and décor are lovingly done: the mushroom vol-au-vents, the white wall units with brown smoked glass…an engaging and hugely impressive novel.’ The Times

    ‘The Northern Clemency – vast, compendious, wearing its ambition like an outsize boutonniere – makes a virtue of its exactness, its recapitulative zeal, its absolute determination to jam everything in and sit unshiftably on the lid.’ Independent on Sunday

    ‘Hensher has a forensic eye for detail, providing nightmarish glimpses of the everyday…engrossing, amusing and moving.’ Independent

    ‘An epic novel.’ Guardian

    ‘Hensher is fascinating good on how social transformation manifests itself in the textures, colours and manners of a culture…extremely funny, but also deeply humane.’ The Sunday Times.

    A remarkable novel…Hensher’s technique of shifting continually from voice to voice, the third-person narrative perceived from the viewpoint of each character in turn, gives a cumulative effect of luminous richness, like a perfect piece of orchestration…but there is something more than brilliant cleverness that makes this novel extraordinary.’ Sunday Times

    ‘Hensher’s is a bold, impressively sustained attempt to mark a transitional phase in modern Englishness as seen largely from the domestic sphere.’ TLS

    ‘A beautifully written book…as impressive in its scope as in the effortless artistry of the language. Its characters are well–defined and plausible, while the narrative is leavened with deftly observed humour that gently pokes its lower–middle class protagonists in the ribs.’ Scotland on Sunday