24 May 2018

Clemency

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.

14 comments:

  1. I like that song, Life in a Northern Town, so this book sounded interesting. I looked up the New York Times review...the NYT called it "terrifically dull" but a great stylistic throwback to Dickens' many-chaptered/multi-year/generational sagas. Philip Hensher is supposed to be very good at describing lower middle class household furnishings. That sells the book (in my opinion).

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    1. I also read the NYT review. For me one of the things that held my attention was the familiar locations. Very few novels have been set in Sheffield.

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  2. Tie this in with your last post and I wondered whether one led subconsciously to the next. I subconsciously and instinctively showed clemency to the little rabbit that is trying to demolish my garden. Hmm. There's a subject for a blog post.

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  3. I forgot to add that I had never heard of the author before and was interested to note that the novel was semi-autobiographical.

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    1. Yes, I believe he attended Tapton School in Sheffield having moved up north from an obscure village in the south of England called London.

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  4. It sounds like a book I'd enjoy, too. Maybe it can be found on Amazon's kindle shop, I'll have a look.

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    1. If the postal cost wasn't so high, I'd mail it to you.

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  5. I like the sound of the book. Your last line is the most important in the post.
    I know a man who is habitually not too merciful and it's not pretty. I think his bitterness eats him alive

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    1. We must allow ourselves to forgive and carry on. This is best for our psychological well-being.

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  6. Sounds like a good story to read on a holiday. Engaging is your key word.

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  7. Historical novels are one of my favourite kinds (I think I can classify 1984 as historical); I will keep one eye peeled for this in the second-hand book shops. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

    On a different tack, I'd be willing to pay for two books if the authors of these looooong (and heavy!) novels would break them into parts! My wrists can't take it :)

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    1. When I finished it, it was like laying down a brick! But I like that. You can weigh the amount you read and the hours you spent upon it.

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  8. Being about an area and an era you know so well, it would certainly have been an interesting read for you.

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