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The Northern Clemency

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  2,292 ratings  ·  362 reviews
Beginning in 1974 and ending with the fading of Thatcher's government in 1996, 'The Northern Clemency' is Philip Hensher's epic portrait of an entire era, a novel concerned with the lives of ordinary people and history on the move. ...more
Hardcover, 738 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Fourth Estate (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.47  · 
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 ·  2,292 ratings  ·  362 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
Alex opened the blinds and pulled open the glass doors to the balcony, did the washing-up quickly, rinsing out the milk carton of its clotted curds before throwing it in the kitchen bin. She put a couple of bottles of beer and some water in the fridge for later.

If you like that kind of thing, you’ll love this novel.



This is about two English families growing up between the 1970s and 1990s in a town up north called Sheffield. There are five people in one family and f
Jan 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009

OK. Let's get the whole rating thing out of the way right now. Objectively speaking, this is a three-star book. But I enjoyed it very much - and read all 600 pages in about a day and a half. Which I think deserves some acknowledgement. There are many, many books that are far superior to "The Northern Clemency", but are way less fun to read. So I'm giving it 4 stars.

Here is an example of Philip Hensher in action a
Maya Panika
Nov 01, 2008 rated it liked it

This is a most interesting book. A truly epic tale (around 300,000 words) of the everyday that follows the lives of two Sheffield families from the seventies to the mid nineties – and it really is a story of the everyday. Nothing truly momentous happens, even the ‘Big’ events are the Big things that happen to us all; death, sudden life threatening illness, emigration, job change, a court case. Nothing world-shattering happens. There are no startling twists
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
What is it about Brits and novel-writing? Must be something in the water. They are so good at it. Or, rather, they are very good at a particular type of novel (what F.R. Leavis would call "The Great Tradition") that I really gravitate toward. The finest American novelists tend toward the mythopoetic (Ellison, Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Faulkner, Hawthorne, Melville) whereas the best Brits tend toward the secular and social. This is a reduction, but not a gross one, and many implications (and str ...more
I loved this. I don't think it's 'great' literature, but for nearly three weeks as I listened to it en route to work, I found it vastly entertaining - in the way that a well-constructed soap opera is entertaining.
Other reviewers haven't been especially kind to it, see or and
Would I have enjoyed it as much without the excellent narration by Carole Boyd? Maybe not. But if yo
Ian Mapp
Apr 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Csicsek
Jan 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This sweeping novel covers decades in the lives of two families in suburban Sheffield in a series of episodes of varying length exploring family life, love and romance, growing up, Thatcher-era politics (particularly the miners' strike), the death of the English cities, and identity in all its shapes and forms. With nine main characters and plenty of peripheral ones, it's not surprising a book of such scope comes to 750 pages, but it is an easy read and can be done quite quickly and enjoyably.

Adrian White
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Good enough to read over 700 pages but nowhere near as good as I thought it was going to be. An engaging ( and occasionally overwhelming) collection of people like you and me: living mundane lives; fucking each other up and fucking each other over; hearts of gold and hearts so cold. All of human life isn't here in these pages but a fair slice of it is. Just . . . expected more. ...more
Jen Padgett Bohle
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: literary fiction enthusiasts
Recommended to Jen by: my mom
Take two random families living on the same street and write a novel spanning 20 years that chronicles their lives and fortunes and you have Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency. In this case, the novel centers around two British suburban families --- Malcolm and Katharine Glover, their children Daniel, Jane, and Tim and the Sellers family across the street, consisting of Bernie, Alice, Sandra, and Francis. I’ve seen reviewers describe these as “dysfunctional” families, but one of the points o ...more
Clif Hostetler
Nov 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
Reading this book gave rise to mixed feelings of fascination and wearisomeness. The Northern Clemency is part history, part sociology and totally compelling—but too long—read. The story is sprawling, detailed and ambitious in scope and design. Hensher’s superbly nuanced and detailed writing makes the relative mundanity of these family’s lives almost compulsively readable. The book was so compelling that it kept me listening* even though I kept thinking to myself, “Gaaawd, I can’t stand all this ...more
May 22, 2010 rated it liked it
I should have loved this book; it has everything that makes a novel I cannot put down... loads of character, great settings, multi-generational plot spanning over decades etc...
The story takes place in Yorkshire, Sheffield actually and follows the trials and tribulations of two middle-class families living across from each other. In turn and through time, we "touch base" with each character: the two couples, together and separately, and the five children whose paths cross every so often. There i
Dec 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have to warn you I'm going to need some extra adjectives here. I might be saying brilliant, wonderful, impressive and glorious so often that I have to resort to using multi-layered as well. Let me apologize in advance for that. I've read The Northern Clemency (picked up solely because it is so very extra chubby) by Philip Hensher and it is fantastic. You can stop reading my puny writing now and go get a copy of it if you want. I won't be insulted.

Clemency starts out in 1970's Sheffield and fol
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I went into this book thinking that I might find it fabulous, given some of the reviews and the subject matter. That attitude usually seems to put a book——or a movie, or a person——at a disadvantage because so much is expected. Well, this is a long, winding narrative filled with characters who, at best, are mostly only semi-likeable. The writing is generally very good, although this was one of those books in which I not infrequently stopped and reread sentences, wondering exactly what the author ...more
Jan 24, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction

On page 391 of this 597 page novel, a main character has "been reading The Far Pavilions for four weeks now, persevering with it; handling seemed to have increased its bulk by half as much again." I knew how she felt: The Northern Clemency also seemed to expand as I turned its pages, its plotlines and characters multiplying, new tendrils shooting off in two dozen directions, old stems thickening. Was Hensher mocking his own novel here? The book does end with a metafictional twist, as another cha
Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was just my cup of 'Yorkshire' tea as I was able to immerse myself in a drama played out over 20 years in the life of two Sheffield families, The Glovers and the Sellars.
And what years they were as the book opens in 1974 when coal strikes are causing havoc in communities with power cuts and Bernie Sellars relocates from London to the North due to his job in management with the Yorkshire Electricity Board. The family includes his wife Alice , teenage daughter Sandra and son Francis.
Mark Landmann
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, favourites
I kept on moving this book down on my queue just because of its length, but in the end I zipped through it. Despite its length there were hardly any sections where my mind drifted and I didn't ever want to miss a single word. I can really see why reviewers here are comparing the book to Franzen... I almost wish I hadn't read that before because I found myself comparing as I went through the book, and usually finding this book not quite measuring up, though I don't really feel like that anymore n ...more
Jan 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Dear Lord, this book felt long. It also seems to progress in fits and starts - I found myself becoming engrossed in some parts, only to suddenly find myself sloshing through a randomly-placed description of the English moors. The story is nearly epic in scale - it follows the lives of several townspeople who live in an industrial village in Northern England during the 70s and the 80s. I will concede that the author effectively paints the Thatcherite/miner strike mood of the time. But I couldn't ...more
Larry H
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I saw that Amazon had named this their best book of 2008, I absolutely had to read it. And I'm so glad I did. This is a BIG book--600 pages long--and it's a sweeping story that primarily centers around two generations of two families. But don't let that slight description steer you away from reading the book. This story is fascinating, compelling, funny, frustrating, a bit heartbreaking and life-affirming, all in one package. True, there is a lot to wade through. But it's well worth it. ...more
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written book about several families whose lives intersect, between London and Sheffield, an industrial (coal) city. We move through early childhood to mature adulthood of several of the characters, and although it's a little tough sometimes to keep the names straight, it is possible with a little bit of extra attention. The writing is fantastic and sometimes so elegant you just want to read a sentence again because it is so well said. Lots of irony and sarcasm, my favorite kind of ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
A compelling novel focussing on the trials and tribulations of two middle class families living in Sheffield from the seveties to the nineties. The period and place is nicely captured with big events such as the miners' strike rumbling on in the background but the emphasis is mainly on the domestic interactions and it is all the better for this. One gets wrapped up in the characters' everyday problems so that the 738 pages seem to fly by. ...more
Mar 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Somehow Philip Hensher has managed to pass me by up to now, but when I read a review of this novel and discovered it's set in Sheffield during the 1970s, I couldn't resist. It's billed as a state-of-the-nation saga on a Tolstoyan scale, following the fate of two families, the Sellers and the Glovers, from 1974 to 1994. It's certainly Tolstoyan in size, weighing in at a hefty 736 pages, but it lacked the historical sweep of Tolstoy. Tolstoy sets the minutiae of his characters' lives in the wider ...more
Jun 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
This was a brilliant book. It's one of those wonderfully crafted books that goes so far into human nature, into the pieces of atypical, illogical behavior that, despite their strangeness, are still universally sympathetic. Set over two decades in Sheffield, UK, it follows two families through the events and non-events of their lives. It also gives a true insight into the lives of the coal miners and the social conditions that surrounded the decline of the mines, and the onset of the Thatcher era ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. Disappointing.
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
If you had asked me a week ago if I liked this book, I would have groaned and rolled my eyes. I completely stalled about 35% of the way into the book. I stalled there for about a month by reading other books and entire issues of the LA Times, unable to commit to finishing the Northern Clemency. Then with a quiet weekend of time, I picked it up again and within an hour or so, I was hooked into the rhythm of Hensher's story - a rhythm that totally eluded me earlier.

The story mainly follows the liv
Jun 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorites of 2010 so far. I asked the clerk at my favorite bookstore if she could recommend something, and she walked out with The Little Stranger (read and loved), Let The Great World Spin (which I was reading, at least until my Kindle got stolen), and this book. I have to go back and thank her. Hensher has written a big, sprawling multi-family saga of 1970's middle-class England, accurate down to the smallest detail, and full of hilarious moments. I think one of the reasons I liked t ...more
Feb 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
The Northern Clemency tells the 25-year story of two families living in suburban Sheffield, England, from the day in 1974 when the Sellers move from London to the house across the street from the Glovers, who just happen to be in the middle of a domestic crisis. This book seems like an answer to those times when you're looking out the train window heading north from London and, by the time the post-war housing is passing by, you're wondering what their inhabitants' lives are like. (I still don't ...more
Didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. I initially picked it up because it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and got some good critical reviews. It's a long novel about two neighboring families in suburban Sheffield, England and their interwining lives over several decades (1970's & 1980's mostly).

In some ways it drew me in (somewhat slowly) to the lives of the many different characters. The author is great at describing the everyday details of life in a family, whether boring or
Jun 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Orginally set in the 1970's in Sheffield, England, this book chronicles the Sellers family and the Glovers as neighbors raising their children in changing economic times into the 1990's. Well-written with intricate details about every day life, my only criticism is that the book could have been a hundred pages shorter. Many intricate short stories are wrapped around the family members, and at times it was difficult to keep it all straight. I liked all the "Briticisms". Parts of it felt like peer ...more
Amy Chang
Sep 21, 2009 marked it as time-s-summer-picks-2009
Lee Child picks The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher

I'm going to read The Northern Clemency, a good old-fashioned 600-page novel about two families, set in England over a 20-year period spanning the 1970s to the '90s ... fun for me because it takes place during times — and upheavals — that I remember very well, in the city where I went to college. I'm told it's funny, moving, full of drama and detail and humanity, and I'm hoping it'll prove once again that to really understand recent history,
Nov 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I began this book with a little trepidation as it seemed that the psychological edginess might be going where I wasn't sure I wished to go. However, that was not the case and I thoroughly enjoyed finding out how the members of these two families grew and changed during the book's long time-frame. There was a great deal of humour and knowing about British politics and social issues makes the book much richer than if the reader is unfamiliar with same. ...more
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Hensher was born in South London, although he spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence in Sheffield, attending Tapton School.[2] He did his undergraduate degree at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford before attending Cambridge, where he was awarded a PhD for work on 18th century painting and satire. Early in his career he worked as a clerk in the House of Commons, from which he was fired over th ...more

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