Fat Hen

Richard Francis

The new novel from Richard Francis, the acclaimed author of Taking Apart the Poco Poco, is a bittersweet portrait of the Willis family, who live in a small terraced house in 1940s Stockport. Fat Hen is a novel about the inner and outer lives we create for ourselves and how they impinge on each other, sometimes even without our realising it.

It’s Stockport, 1948, and an ordinary family, Rose and Jack Willis, their son Donald, and Rose’s father Ernie, are living apparently uneventful existences in a small terraced house. Things are not what they seem. While moving a piano Jack makes a discovery that enables him to create an alternative life for himself, unknown to his nearest and dearest. Rose, comforting an acquaintance whose son died shortly before he was due to appear at a municipal ball, finds herself having an experience that she simply can’t put a name to. Ernie becomes increasingly absorbed by his two main interests, executions and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and discovers that these obsessions have a part to play in his own destiny. Young Donald convinces himself that he died at the age of six, and that his whole existence is a fantasy of the afterlife.

Fat Hen explores the magical underpinning of daily life. The lives of all the members of this family are dogged by misunderstanding and betrayal but also held in the balance by good humour and forgiveness. Fat Hen is a rich and complex novel that is poignant and comic in turns.

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