Oh hip hooray, at last, let there be rejoicement and resounding alleluliarisation.
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher, and never in the history of Bookerthon-ing has a single book taken me so long to read. But, and this is the very clever thing, no matter when or how long the reading gap, each time I picked it up I was right back into it in a flash and loving every word...sorry have I told you that already?
I think I've strung this one out a bit for fear of the bereavement of the final turning of the page but also because I think this was the best way for me to read it.
Most people live ordinary lives which are often, well just ordinary, and there's no point in suggesting otherwise, so the trick is to make them interesting and readable whilst ignoring the temptation to tart things up, throw in a few murders, a bit of rape and pillage and perhaps a bullion robbery or something for a bit of local attention-seeking page-turning colour.
The Northern Clemency offers the most dazzling insight into social behaviour I've read in a long time, a sweeping yet microscopic glimpse of life behind the front doors of British suburbia. This is Darkmans minus those Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell odd bits and I would hope that realism steals the book a bit of an advantage with its Booker chances.
I have already mentioned the period detail but it's too good not to remind everyone about the way we used to wallpaper one wall and paint three, drive orange Marinas ( we had one in the 1980's), take four months to read The Far Pavilions and still not really follow it, look at old colour photos ten years on and remark on the green tinge, use Snoopy pencil cases at school...I could go on and on but it's all nailed and spot on for accuracy.
More assets, the characterisation, the subtle but believable ageing of characters, not an easy one to pull off with that essential requirement to maintain personality traits established in childhood whilst allowing them to mature into adulthood, or from adulthood into old age and yet remain familiar. Some intriguing off the beaten track psychological explorations with several characters which I won't spoil but you will definitely spot.
The plot twists and turns but never strays too far from the ordinary as to be risible and with a perceptive eye for detail that kept me constantly in thrall to Philip Hensher's control of his huge novel. One or two characters puzzlingly made an entrance and then seemed to fade, leaving only a slight trace, but then I realised that is so true to life. Not everyone becomes a best friend about whom you know every detail, great writing restraint there.
Accusations of descent into soap opera in one review remain unfounded in my mind. Soap opera equals life and Philip Hensher's only problem must have been knowing when and how to stop writing The Northern Clemency because I'd read another volume like a shot.
Disappointingly no mention of the Blue Nun Liebfraumilch so that's my tenner bet down the drain, but yes, the jolly old Hillman Imp gets a run out and I had to smile at that fairy-sized boot. No 1970's chap stood a chance with us peripatetic student nurses if he drove one of those.
How on earth would you fit a trunk and a stereo in there to move us on to our next flat?
And yes, just to prove we really did drink it, here's that famous 1970's Blue Nun picture.
I've said it already, The Northern Clemency, well you're my favourite and on my shortlist. I am busy trying to organise a prize draw copy of some of my Booker shortlisted books and so far so very good, here's the first.
Names in comments and a copy of The Northern Clemency could be thumping down on your doormat very soon, and be quick because each of these is going to be drawn within 48 hours of posting or we'll be doing this forever.