The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher is going to have to be a book of two half-posts, much as I did for Nicola Barker's Darkmans last year and let's get this bit out of the way, to say I'm loving it would be an understatement.
It's causing much consternation chez dovegreyreader where they are accustomed to seeing me walk around with a pile of Books in Progress but perhaps not the same book in the pile for so long, and looking in need of someone to invent a wheelie book trolley to assist. I lug The Northern Clemency upstairs at night, downstairs in the morning, cart it out onto the back seat of my car for lunchtime, back indoors again, back onto the kitchen table and still I've only reached halfway. It's requiring me to read slowly and deliberately, perhaps as if I was listening in on these lives.
We've all admired the cover, become very well-acquainted with it and think that's our roof they've photographed. If the book spends much more time on the kitchen table we may have to decorate the room to match, which may not be such a good decision.
I visited a house many years ago where the sitting room had been decorated to match the parrot, that wasn't a good decision either.
But there are interesting thoughts developing around The Northern Clemency in my mind and Bookhound's too because he may not be reading it but he's constantly being asked to recall the 1970's, in the midst of which we met and married of course
'Do you remember Simca cars?'
'Remember we started making Chili Con Carne as a way of making mince more interesting?'
'Chelsea Girl...goodness, used to spend all my Saturday job wages in there, those Oxford Bags were something else.'
'I bet you £10 he mentions Blue Nun Liebfraumilch any minute now.'...that one is pending and may just be a memory too far for Philip Hensher.
Commenting at Dartington recently on the dangerous pitfalls of writing the recent past, often the most remote period of history, Philip Hensher flagged up the language as one of the most difficult aspects to get right, but I would add product placement equally tricky. Overegg the pudding and it's all far too obvious, a dash here and there and it works to perfection.
Interestingly I grew up in the London environs recalled in The Northern Clemency and so I'm loving the occasional mention of the River Wandle because our house was right on the river bank, and mention of Tiffin Girl's school had me recalling those mighty battles with them on the hockey pitch. Nonsuch always emerged supreme I'm sure.
There is a congruence to life in this novel, so much so that when I pick it up I know exactly where I am and am back into the story within a sentence or two. A similar thing happens at work, when there may be a gap of a month between seeing a family but after a sentence or two, our last contact comes back to mind, the details are recalled and we carry on where we left off...how are the sleepless nights going...has the toddler recovered from that episode with the fire brigade...did you murder your mother-in-law or cope for the rest of her visit...did you find the chinchilla...all those intricate details of people's live, details that matter immensely to them and recalling them an unspoken indication that you've heard what they have to say.
Perhaps it's Philip Hensher's careful attention to detail that is impressing me so much. Thought processes are taken that one step further, to the level that requires close attention on the part of the writer to make it interesting enough for the reader. Loving the minutiae of real life as I do, and finding them captured here on the page is making this book such a pleasure to read and not for one minute is it boring or repetitive or tedious.
More literary impressions for the second half-post perhaps, but hang it all, half-way thoughts or not, this is on my Booker short list for sure.