It's very rare that I read a book that I really don't enjoy. What has surprised me more is that it is a book that has been so highly rated by others a...moreIt's very rare that I read a book that I really don't enjoy. What has surprised me more is that it is a book that has been so highly rated by others and won the Booker Prize. But that was, sadly, the way with this book.
I can't quite put my finger on what it was that I didn't enjoy. I have read very little historical fiction, and so perhaps it was just the genre. I also found the style of writing far too archaic for my liking, and so again perhaps it was just that I tend to prefer more modern language. There are also a lot of characters in this book and so perhaps tending to read on a train when it is noisy and there can be distractions meant I couldn't keep a proper track of who was who. But whatever the reason was I just couldn't get in to it.
I thought I should have enjoyed it as I find history generally interesting, but once I'd got halfway through and continually thinking that if I persevered a bit longer I would get in to it, I couldn't face it any longer. Unusually this book was abandoned before reaching the end.(less)
It's a very rare thing to read a book that is set in the area where you grew up. And when I say the area I grew up I don't mean in the sense that I gr...moreIt's a very rare thing to read a book that is set in the area where you grew up. And when I say the area I grew up I don't mean in the sense that I grew up in the same city, but I actually spent my childhood in exactly the same suburbs of Sheffield and walked the same streets. There is a time difference of about 10-15 years but other than that there is so much that resonates. I often wonder with other books set in places I know whether other readers really get the novel in the same way, but with The Northern Clemency being shortlisted for the Booker Prize they must do. For me however, knowing the territory made it so much more powerful and even when Philip Hensher had changed the name of a shop, a school, a restaurant or a club, I knew exactly where he was referring to, and with the 'crags' having also played a part in my childhood it was great to see them depicted in great literature. But on to the book itself...
It has to be said that the size of this book is huge - 738 pages - which makes it one of the best adverts there's ever been for using a Kindle, however I'm still a fan of paper books and so I reserved it mainly for Christmas when I didn't have to lug it on my daily commute to work as much. But despite the size of it, it manages to rattle along at a reasonable pace and I ploughed through it quite quickly.
It sounds like an odd way of describing a book that I've rated so highly, but actually very little happens in it. Essentially it starts off with families living on a street in the 1970s and finishes with them still living in the same streets in the 1990s, via a few geographical digressions. Although every so often something happens that surprises you, and it is these occasional dramas that have significance later on, it is essentially just taking you through the lives of two families. It's actually fairly unremarkable, but the characterisation is what is strong and makes you really want to understand each person and see how they progress and change. Those little subtleties, nuances, turns of phrase, reactions and so on, those are the things that make this such a strong book. It's not a sense of place, but a sense of person, that makes it work so well.(less)