On sunshine holidays and aeroplanes I often like to devour books. The holiday in Corfu was no different.
I took a book called "The Northern Clemency" by Philip Hensher, having spotted a copy of it when sorting out book donations in the upstairs rooms at my Oxfam shop. At 738 pages in length, it would certainly take some devouring.
"The Northern Clemency" is a novel - largely about suburban life in one of England's great northern cities. In fact that city is Sheffield and I could relate directly to most of the locations to which Hensher referred. With my intimate knowledge of a city I have lived and worked in since 1978 there were some minor jarring notes. For example, the author refers to the village of Orgreave on the edge of our city as a "town". This is where the great battle between striking coal miners and an army of police officers occurred on June 18th 1984. Nearly everybody in South Yorkshire knows that Orgreave was just an ugly industrial village with a big coking plant on its doorstep. It was never a town.
The novel spans some twenty years and follows the development of two families - the Glovers and the Sellers. They live on the same street between the suburbs of Broomhill and Crosspool. Hensher treats his characters with affection, revealing their differences and the things that make them tick as individuals. His love of humanity is palpable and though there is laughter to be found in this tome, readers are never invited to laugh at the characters. They cannot help who they are.
There are things I disagreed with - such as the way the miners' strike was portrayed - but this was a very readable and engaging novel. It's not heavy Literature with a big "L", nor is it filled with weighty philosophical notions. It is just about ordinary people rubbing along together, trying to be happy, trying to be true to themselves.
"Clemency" is not a word you come across every day. It means "mercy", "leniency" and "forgiveness". Hensher shows clemency to his characters just as these inhabitants of the novel tend to forgive the mistakes and failings of others. Life is perhaps too short to be weighed down by the soul-sapping burden of habitual inclemency.