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Northern Clemency, the (Philip Hensher)

According to Spectator, "Hensher presents the great drama and inexhaustible wonder of ordinary life." To my mind, it is the business of a novelist not merely to present but to select.

Other reviews raise danger-signals including "saga" and "epic", while The Wall Street Journal comes right out with "sprawling". The New Statesman warns that "no detail is too small."
N/007

I enjoyed the Mulberry Empire, a rich narrative with fine splashes of colour: a Pasini, if you like. the Northern Clemency, though, was Richard Dadd let loose with a word-processor: vast quantities of fine detail, little sense of selection or overall purpose, and a general after-taste of something slightly unpleasant.

In The Secret Vanguard Sheila Grant starts on the Antiquary, and thinks "An ever-so-mildly interesting young man in an ever-so-mildly interesting situation." Scott, she decides, can get away with this leisurely approach, even if she does lay the book aside when German agents start swapping espionage under her nose.

I needed no such cloak-and-dagger distractions: Hensher's 738-page monster could not hold my attention, despite its frequent Sheffield scenes. I once read something purporting to be the first English novel, perhaps Camilla, and decided its unfiltered presentation – every piece of information at the same level – was to be excused by its being the first time anyone had tried. Can't get away with that in 2009.

OK, the description of the battle re-enactment is finely observed and deftly written, and something does actually happen on page 600. But with apologies to Roy Campbell:
You praise the scale and breadth with which they write,
their pen's untiring force:
the story races on through day and night,
but where's the bloody course?


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