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King of the Badgers

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  698 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Here, Philip Hensher brings us the peaceful civility and spiralling paranoia of the small English town of Hanmouth. Usually a quiet and undisturbed place situated on an estuary, Hanmouth becomes the centre of national attention when an eight-year-old girl vanishes.
Hardcover, 436 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Fourth Estate (GB)
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May 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Picturesque Hinmouth lies on an estuary in the southwest of England, and is close to Barnstaple University. These are obvious stand-ins for Exmouth/ Exeter and the University of Exeter (where Philip Hensher teaches English), and he surveys the lay of the social land with an intimate, brilliantly detailed eye. What happens to the snobs, yobs, busy-bodies, have-nots and ne'er-do-wells of Hinmouth and its suburban hinterland when a little girl goes missing and her unappealing family's story doesn't ...more
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
I bought and read this last November, as a kind of antidote to Julian Barnes's "The Sense of an Ending". The thin gruel of that effort, with its dull, forgettable main protagonist left me with an appetite for a real story, with characters that would actually engage the reader's interest. And yes, stretching this tortured metaphor a little farther, Hensher's book satisfied my craving - it's a hearty beef stew (or maybe a bouillabaisse), with a large cast of characters, satisfyingly complex ...more


and J.B.
and Sam
and Rita
and Ralf
and Julia
and Yusef
anf Jimmy
and renaud
and Richard
and Alan again
and Lapin again
and Professor A
and Dickie Heat-Hot
and not forgetting Nix (Hi Nicola!)
and Mrs Blaikie (with love from Rufus)
and Herbert who said it's all quite laconic once
but especially and always and once more for my husband
and really just to say to all of them and probably some others too

[GR does not allow 'center' command, so I have to point out that
David Gee
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
After his Sheffield saga THE NORTHERN CLEMENCY, Philip Hensher relocates to a small select township on the Bristol Channel with KING OF THE BADGERS (where does he get these weird titles from?). I'm sure many readers will take a guess at where Hanmouth is meant to be.

The book begins with the disappearance of an 8-year-old girl from the council estate on the outskirts. The case seems to fizzle out until a surprise discovery much later in the story. What Hensher concentrates on is giving a picture
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
To say that "King of the Badgers" is a strange book, is putting it mildly. I learned about the book by accident while reading the status of one of my favorite authors. She said that Hensher had made a disparaging statement about "thrillers." I guess it's a matter of taste. I like a good crime novel myself, but I do like to indulge in good literature also.

This book was strange but so well-written, I couldn't put it down. Hensher doesn't like all of the CCTV cameras that are all over Britain. I
Andrew Rumbles
Feb 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Hanmouth, Devon is an English village where the town’s inhabitants are happily living their daily lives. In the interests of civic safety they have agreed to install CCTV. As the story unfolds we also see their lives from the inside and all is not what it always appears to be. Why is Sylvie making collages out of penises cut from magazines? Why is the Brigadier’s wife always so chipper? What makes the new couple in town think they will fit in? Will their son enjoy his visit and who is his new ...more
Helen Woods
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I absolutely loved this book. I like everything Hensher has written but I enjoyed this book probably the most. He is a snob but his snobbery is a scattergun affair - no-one is safe - the smug, the rich, the poor, the dull and the eccentric all get a sharp seeing to before he marches on to have a go at someone else.
The story is about a town, which is on the face of it, a perfect English seaside town but literally no-one is as they seem. I particularly like the way the writer is quite savage with
Catherine Davison
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There’s already a really good review on GR by a reader called David, so I’m just going to redirect folk to his review rather than trying to write my own because David has expressed pretty much everything I thought about this brilliant book. ( ‘Brilliant’ being one of the terms the American boy adopted in his attempts to be more British!). I loved this book and I too thought it read like a contemporary 19th Century novel with its big panoramic cast and the small but interesting events unfolding ...more
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The new novel by Philip Hensher, King of the Badgers, is an ambitious state of the nation novel. It is a sometimes entertaining, sometimes horrifying dissection of a community. It satirizes, illuminates and exposes current manners and mindsets in Great Britain.

Taking apart middle class snobbery and pretensions is not a new endeavor for Hensher. In a terrific earlier novel, The NorthernClemency he did the same thing on a much smaller scale and in a historical context. The distance that history
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Here's what I had to say about an earlier Philip Henscher novel, The Northern Clemency: "One of the more engaging novels I've read recently, what appears at first glance to be a gentle, modest story about middle-class British family life reveals itself to be a multi-generational saga spanning two decades; in short, a novel about everything that's important, told with penetrating insight, brutal honesty, and wry humor."

King of the Badgers is anything but gentle. It stretches the concept of
Sep 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is one of those guilty pleasures one is reluctant to admitting how much you enjoyed it, as Philip Hensher spares no sacred cows, pieties, scruples or morals in this often grotesque and lurid, but extremely funny, skewering of middle-class society. Even the reader has his or her pretensions examined ruthlessly at one point ... and found to be sorely wanting, of course, as is everyone else under Hensher’s ferociously intelligent gaze.

In the fictional English town of Hanmouth, on the
Kelly Robinson
Badger writes a cutting social commentary in his latest novel, King of the Badgers, about a small picturesque village in Southwest England, Hanmouth, and its inhabitants. While the story revolves around the townspeople during the disappearance of a small girl from the public housing in the outskirts of town, this is not a mystery. Rather, the girl's disappearance acts as a tool for Hensher to dissect the lives of the townspeople - all of whom have great faults - whether it is the selfishness and ...more
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Phillip Hensher has done it again, although (thank goodness) in around two to three hundred less pages than last time (not that I didn't mind all the pages last time, but I do appreciate his economy this time around).
Once I started this book, I bunkered down for the weekend with a steady supply of peppermint tea and plenty of delicious baked goods. Curling up with this book was time to treasure.

The novel opens with the story of a missing eight-year old girl, China, in the town of Hanmouth
Richard Moss
Jun 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
I am a big fan of Philip Hensher's work, but initially I found King of the Badgers hard going.

For the first hundred pages or so, he seems to have almost complete contempt for his characters. This is a social satire of a small English town, so you'd expect some tang of acid, but this was initially too unforgiving.

Although mostly we are in middle class fictional Devon town of Handsmouth, there is a focus in the first section on a family from a poor satellite estate who's eight-year-old daughter
Nov 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Though the book is ostensibly about a child abduction, Hensher's main theme in King of the Badgers is the distinction between public and private. This isn't, however, a simple screed about the proliferation of security cameras and the culture of surveillance in modern Britain. Instead, Hensher does a brilliant job of showing you the complicated interplay between his characters' public and private lives, between their inner thoughts and their outer performances, between their selves and their ...more
Sherry Chiger
Oct 30, 2012 rated it liked it
If you cannot enjoy a book without liking or empathizing with the main characters, give King of the Badgers a miss. Few of the characters (and there are many) are people you'd willingly hang out with; more than a few you'd go out of your way to avoid. Along the same lines, if you prefer a more conventional structure to your novels, you probably won't like this one. The books starts out as is it's about a young girl's disappearance, but then the story line is all but dropped--though we do at ...more
Oct 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
Like many a 19th-century British novel, King of the Badgers opens with a detailed description of a town, in this case Hanmouth, a pretty coastal spot near the Bristol Channel. That all-seeing narrator's eye sees quite a bit more, actually, than the closed-circuit security cameras that a public safety committee has arranged to scan the picturesque streets. On the one hand, King of the Badgers is a classic story of a crime that takes place amid a varied cast of Hanmouth residents. On the other, it ...more
Sep 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good & thought provoking book. Set in a small town in Devon where a young girl goes missing from a nearby Council Estate. The disappearance of the child is not the focus of the story but provides a backdrop to some excellent character studies as the town goes about it's business with this event swirling around in the background - much like real life. Great writing with some quite poignant interactions between characters and some quite confronting ones. Teenager Hettie with her ...more
Jul 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible, 2011
I loved this book. One review of it said that it set out to skewer almost every facet of British life, to which I’d respond, “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”
It was delicious, full of ordinarily eccentric and eccentrically ordinary characters, not many of them nice, many of them nasty, and almost all of them with something to hide.
Few of the characters were endearing, but they were people I wanted to believe actually exist behind the lace curtains of your average British town or village.
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Wonderfully written, especially the conversations, but so much less a novel than "The Northern Clemency." The title is something of a mystery, although I'm sure the explanation in the Washington Post's review is correct: "The title “King of the Badgers” comes from a 1965 children’s book by J.P. Martin, “Uncle Cleans Up,” that offers the same distinctly British kind of satire: savage, with a soupcon of tenderness. (In the kind of pun that Hensher favors, “badger” is also slang for a cruel person. ...more
❤Marie Gentilcore
This was my first win from Goodreads First Reads. I was very excited to start it. It's the story of residents in a small town called Hanmouth and takes place when a little girl goes missing. I enjoyed the characters. The writer did a good job making each character feel real and I felt like I knew what it would be like to live in Hanmouth. I would have rated the book higher except that it took a while to get into the writer's rhythm. I also thought there were a lot of characters to get to know, ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at contemporary English society - the tyranny of silence and issues of privacy. By examining stereotypes, he author manages to convey that while we are increasingly observed, there is just as much that we still don't know about our communities - and where do we say that enough is enough. What appears to start as a crime thriller/mystery veers quickly off into a social commentary, with the crime's resolution not really being pivotal to the denouement at all. Very few of the ...more
Oct 31, 2011 added it
Well, I didn't really finish the book.

Although the review sounded very interesting, the writing was very esoteric, which normally would not bother me, however, it was just too involved with too many things occuring with too many folks, that keeping track of everyone was just extremely difficult.
Also, the implied violence seemed to center around a young girl from a family of some "means"; the child that goes missing comes from a family of lesser "means", on the afternoon the disappearance, the
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book because I had loved (& lent out) 'Northern Clemency' very much, but I really hated it. Philip Henscher has s very readable style, but the snide and mocking way he describes his characters is so unpleasant, it makes the book almost unreadable. The characters are all extreme stereotypes with every character conniving & lying to each other, with the exception of Billa (who is herself a stereotype of an old-fashioned but liberal woman). Deeply unpleasant ...more
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
This novel begins with the story of a missing 8-yr old girl, China. I kind of expected the book to continue with this theme. However, it focused on the loves and lives of the other residents in the British town of Hanmouth just referring to the missing girl from time to time.

Most of the residents appeared to have something to hide and there seemed to be a lot of gay love happening! It took a while to get into, but just got better and better.

Catherine Siemann
Nov 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Centering around the kidnapping of a young girl from a council estate on the outskirts of a picturesque Devon village, this novel deals with issues of class, gender, and belonging. Hensher excels at creating characters and drawing us into their lives; the novel suffers somewhat from jumping from set to set of characters, not returning to resolve certain plotlines.
Gareth Evans
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Always entertaining, this book reads more like a few weeks of a soap opera (Ambridge-sur-mer with bigger and more explicit roles for Adam and Ian). It is true that's couple of the major plots are resolved, but so much is left hanging that I feel I should tune in for next week's episode. This would be no bad thing, it's great fun.
Kris Fernandez-Everett
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the book, even if the ending a bit weak and the John Calvin character more than a little heavy handed... All in all, a very interesting, black comedic take on life under the watchful eye of CCTV Big Brother...
Mar 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I really enjoyed this book. It's not one of the most amazing stories ever written, but Philip Hensher's writting is brilliant, absolutely entertaining and fun. I will definitely read more of his books!
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a very engaging book about a community in Devon living in a picturesque harbour town called "Hanmouth"It's close to Barnstaple, so we assume, don't we, that it could be any of the lovely towns around that area. The irony is of course that hardly anyone in "proper" Hanmouth is a local; no, they are all affluent and mostly retired people who have settled here.
The "real" residents tend to live in sprawling, ugly developments just outside Hanmouth, and it is here the real drama begins.
Ian Mapp
Nov 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-fict
This is three book in one. Very interested to see what people who started the book thinking it was a crime thriller about a missing girl made of the very detailed gay orgy half way through.

The start of the book presents a little bit of a problem for me. The story, about the disappearance of a young girl called China in the ficitional devonshire town of Hanmouth is so obviously based on the true story of Shannon Matthews. I'm really not that much of a fan of fiction that takes on a real story.
Feb 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book quite a lot and read it quickly. I don't think I can give it more than three stars, however, because there's a sloppiness about it that does spoil it. The Northern Clemency had the same problem. Hensher obviously is very taken with the idea of illuminating society as a whole at a given moment at time, but it would be very difficult to achieve that in any meaningful sense and he doesn't seem to have the gift. He ends up with several slightly underdone stories thrown together ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, other-places
Hensher may be good at description, but this book left a nasty taste in the mouth. Hensher seems to delight in cutting his characters to ribbons. There are too many characters and I began to lose track of who they were, and did not develop enough connection with any of them to care much. To say it deals with the seedier side of life is putting it mildly. Everyone seems to have hidden secrets, nasty habits and distasteful pastimes, from the children to the old people. If this is an accurate ...more
Ian Young
King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher is set in the fictional Devon town of Hanmouth. It is a large book which addresses large themes, in particular loss of privacy and the intrusion of authority and the media into every aspect of how we live. I was reminded as I read the book of a soap opera; some of the events it portrays are clearly based on high profile real life events which have been played out in the full light of press and television scrutiny in recent years.

The starting point for novel
Topher Hooperton
Aug 17, 2011 rated it liked it
In the fictional Devonshire town of Hanmouth where nothing much happens, a lot is happening. Philip Hensher's new novel, King Of The Badgers, takes the reader behind the net curtains of the town's quaint cottages, peeking into their secret lives and uncovering sinful desires, suburban sex parties and a truly disturbing crime.

The village sits at the mouth of an estuary, and it's a constantly menacing milieu; a sticky, tricky wetland that traps any careless tourists trying to cross it. Its yawning
May 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Hensher es un muy buen escritor costumbrista, tiene un estilo muy ameno y, sobre todo, sabe construir personajes. Sin embargo, me he sentido un poco engañada, porque esta novela no es exactamente lo que en la contraportada se ofrece.

La desaparición de una niña es poco más que una excusa para introducirnos en una pequeña comunidad de pueblo inglés, cuyos habitantes y sus avatares son los verdaderos protagonistas de la novela. El libro está estructurado de tal forma que la desaparición/secuestro
Jul 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Very strange, but oddly engrossing book. I have to agree with other reviewers that Hensher seems to have been trying to tell too many stories here, and the book could have done with a bit more editing. There were chapters that seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of the book (like the one about a group of pre-schoolers and their minders waiting for a train - what??) I thought Hensher did a great job of showing the isolation of individuals, all living in a small town where they supposedly ...more
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
King of the Badgers is another book club offering that I'd probably never have picked up of my own accord - but that's by no means a bad thing. It's nice to have something completely out of my usual wheelhouse, and end up enjoying it so much that it's hard to put down on holiday.

Ostensibly centered on the disappearance of an eight-year-old from a less desirable suburb of a stuck-up town, King of the Badgers is really the story of a community. Told in bursts and fleeting snatches from a multitude
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
A wonderful quirky, and timely book. At first read it might seem to be a collection of character pieces knitted into an offbeat and sly novel with a darker abduction story somewhat oddly running through the background, but I am in agreement with an earlier review that it is essentially a novel about the tension between our public and private lives, what we are at our core and what we show to the world, and how intrusive our modern society has become into our private sanctuaries, physical, mental ...more
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Set in a small town on the coast of Devon, this book is an astute and observant social commentary set in the present day. A girl from a family on the wrong side of town goes missing, the local Neighbourhood Watch continues to put up CCTV cameras everywhere, an awkward teenager has her first romance, recent arrivals try to make friends, an old gay couple host an orgy... The author Phillip Hensher writes with great wit and insight. I only really gave it four stars as reading about the present day ...more
Dave Holwill
I liked the style, the mostly unlikeable characters and snarky commentary.
I enjoyed the character study of middle-class incomers in Devon.
I was sad that the plot hinted at in the blurb was abandoned much sooner than expected.
I was even more sad that the author had clearly never tried to get around North Devon by train before. The London geography is spot on, and the fictional town of Hanmouth is just fine, but turning Barnstaple into a city and giving Bideford back its long closed station and a
Jane E
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british, fiction
This is not high literature but interesting enough that one wants to read just one more chapter and then another. The people in the village are varied and plausible enough to be real. I felt as though some of the stories didn't go anywhere (why am I being told this?) and there was a bit too much padding in some cases but it was a good change after a number of heavier non-fiction works. I particularly liked the description of dogging which is completely new to me. Is it real? And also the artist ...more
David Grieve
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very well written expose of the behind the scenes lives of the middle classes of a fictional town on the Bristol channel. A girl has disappeared from one of the poorer areas of Hanmouth (not really considered Hanmouth by the real residents) and this puts the town in the media spotlight for a few days. The focus of the novel moves away from this much like the retreating media and concentrates on a number of the residents and their private lives.

The number of people introduced can be slightly
Lize-meré Ludick
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Although I get the satires in all the story lines, for me there were just too many characters with too many story lines; sometimes unexpectedly popping up in the middle of the book for the first time. There were also numerous scenes that could have been edited out as it had no relevance for me and did not seem to fit in anywhere.

The narrative also does not accurately set out the theme of the story. Although the book starts off with China going missing, it trails far off from that story line to a
Simon Preston
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a well-written book, but I found the plot a bit noodling. I'd have liked him to stick closer to the story (which the synopsis makes you think is more central than it is) of the missing girl. It would have been interesting to see a combination of literary fiction and thriller and would have been more focused. Some reviewers on here complain that it's quite cold and sneering - I think there's justice in that. He is capable of sympathetic characterisation. That said there's also pleasure to ...more
Sep 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Strange book, strange in a good way, ostensibly about a kidnapped girl but which soon loses track of that element of the plot and veers from thriller into an examination of the lives of the people in the girl's little town who gossip about her and then drop her as a topic of discussion, just as the book does, and thus we, like the townspeople, are implicated in our prurient fascination with her story and then the almost equally prurient look into the lives of the other characters. It continually ...more
Sep 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
People who move to New York or London to pursue writing careers seem to take pleasure in exposing the dirty little secrets of the less populous places they have left behind. The village tell-all has been around at least since the Industrial Revolution, but really took off with the publication of Henry Bellamann's King's Row in 1940. Then came Grace Metalious' Peyton Place and the floodgates sprang open. Now any reader of fiction can be certain that the tidy white rose-covered cottage at the end ...more
Nov 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is set in Hanmouth, a small fictional town on the North coast of Devon. The town is small and idyllic and mainly middle class people live there.

The story dips into the lives of several of the inhabitants of the town and the reader is guided through a few interrelated stories. The story begins with the kidnapping of a hairdresser and her dubious boyfriend’s daughter. The media frenzy in the town begins as an investigation is set up to search for this child.

As this is happening we then
Joel Brown
Can't rate this because I didn't finish it. The crosscutting between characters that's Hensher's trademark is taken to an extreme in this. The panorama of small town life was interesting in the beginning, but gradually the accumulation of small details and moments was just a big pile of stuff through which I couldn't see the story. Hard to find someone to root for. And nothing very surprising, at least in the 150+ pages I read. Lost touch with the missing-kid story. Got bored with all the rest. ...more
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Really well written, really interesting.

I found this through Goodreads: It was listed under the “readers also enjoyed” tag for Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose books, and I love those, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I'm glad I did.

I can see why they made the connection. It’s not as glitteringly clever, nor as cruel, but not much is. Also, to be fair, the authors are doing different things: St. Aubyn was focused on one family, while Hensher was constructing a broader picture, of a English
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Let me start by saying that my rating reflects my personal experience: this may indeed be fantastic literature; it just wasn't a good fit for me. Before I go into why, an attempt to help match the book to the audience: I think you will enjoy this book if you liked The Sound and the Fury (this is more towards dark humour, but has some similar themes), Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (although this is, instead, a rather more mysanthropic portrait of semi-suburban life), A Spot of Bother, ...more
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Right now, as you read this, your computer has made a note of your visit. Similarly, server-side, your unique IP address has been logged in a memory bank somewhere. Your mobile phone next to you continually beams its location—your location—to a satellite, and tour car’s GPS or built-in OnStar does the same. And even if you were to walk away from your treasonous electronic gadgets, posted on the lamppost above you (or on your neighbor’s door, or in your building’s lobby) are CCTV cameras, ...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 ...more
“... something very unusual, a chocolate-flavoured log of goats’ cheese. “Made by lesbians in Wales,” Sam had explained superfluously.” 2 likes
“Why do we say ‘the cockles of your heart’?” David said. “Nothing to do with whelks, I suppose.” 0 likes
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