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by Philip Hensher

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4000-4448-1
Publisher: Knopf

Full-to-bursting drama of family and place from Hensher (The Fit, 2005, etc.), a finalist for this year’s Booker Prize.

Transplanted from swinging London to South Yorkshire, the Sellers clan winds up on a suburban street among contractors, shopkeepers, housewives and disaffected teenagers—it’s 1974, and disaffection is thick in the air. Shy, musical Francis and sister Sandra, a touch on the wild side, meet up with the Glover kids: bookish Jane (“Under no circumstances would she tell any of these people that she, Jane, was writing a novel”); Daniel, busily daydreaming of sex with anything animate; and Tim, devoted to snakes and deeply troubled. The families do what families do on that leafy street beneath the blue suburban skies, and, given that there is no childhood without trauma, traumas ensue. Fast-forward a decade, with the good children in university and beginning careers. Family life is disintegrating as jobs at the colliery dry up and the me-first, new-economy society emerges with all the old-class assumptions intact. Then fast-forward to the ’90s, with the kids leading lives of quiet desperation. Scattered around the world, they are always pulled back to the moors and hills. While not much is done, a lot is talked about—and the dialogue is spot on.

Hensher’s saga of 19th-century proportions is worth reading, even if the plot plods from time to time.