King of the Badgers – Philip Hensher

King of the Badgers

Five words from the blurb: Devon, English, town, quiet, privacy

Twitter has been full of love for this book and so I decided to jump on the band-wagon and read it too.

King of the Badgers is set in the fictional seaside town of Hanmouth, Devon and shows how the community is affected when a eight-year-old girl goes missing.

The writing was vivid, quickly building up a snapshot of modern English life. The observations of the class divide were particularly astute and I admired the quiet, realistic subtlety of the interactions between the characters.

I initially loved this book, but once the scene had been set I began to become frustrated. There was no forward momentum and because the pace of the book was painstakingly slow my mind began to wander. There were many points at which I almost gave up, but just as I was considering abandoning it something always  happened to briefly grab my attention again. The problem was that the book felt disjointed and apart from being a “State of the Nation” novel there seemed to be no real thread to hold the narrative together. Some of the individual scenes were fantastic, but together they offered no real entertainment or insight.

The street had been done up in stages. Only one house remained untouched. No magazine recommendations had been implemented here. The garden did not have a path made out of the fragments of smashed plates; mirrors were not embedded in the wall of the garden. There were no monochromatic planting schemes in that front garden, and no ironic or amusing use of artificial grass, garden gnomes or other ornaments; nor did it contain unironic and amusing abstract sculptures.

If you are happy reading about English life in all its trivial and repulsive detail then I recommend this book, but if you are after any kind of plot then I’d stay away. Despite my criticisms I’d be very surprised not to see this on the Booker shortlist this year, so if you are Booker bagging I recommend that you get hold of a copy now!

13 replies on “King of the Badgers – Philip Hensher”

I really enjoyed The northern clemency so I should look out for this hwen I have a bit more brain space to devote to proper reading.

Verity, I haven’t read The Northern Clemency so I’m afraid that I can’t compare the two, but agree that this one needs a lot of brain space to appreciate it.

Grahm, I loved Hensher’s writing style so will pick up The Northern Clemency at some point – I just hope that the novel feels more connected that this one.

Alex, Yes! Last night I was browsing my stacks trying to decide which books to read next and picked up two in a row about the same thing – I put them back. The book needs to handle the subject in an outstanding way if it is to stand out against all the others and I don’t want to read so many about the same thing. 🙁

There’s something about town snapshots… they always seem to take place just as a child has gone missing.

Okay, that’s obviously not true. It’s just that I’ve encountered a lot of books recently with the missing child plot thread, used to “illuminate” day-to-day life of a small town. It’s a little… done. As for the snapshot aspect, I often enjoy snapshots but have to admit that as overall books, they’re not particularly successful.

Biblibio, I agree with you. This sort of thing has been done so much before that amazing writing isn’t enough – there needs to be some deeper revelations and this book just didn’t have any. Snapshots are great for about 50 pages, but then I need something else to entertain me.

I’m normally quite interested reading about the South West as I live down here but I’m not a fan of slow books unless they have a really interesting plot…which by the sounds of it, this doesn’t have!

Ellie, No, very little plot in this one, but you might find the local interest makes up for it for you? I guess there is only one way to find out…

Judith, I’m glad I got my copy from the library as I would have been disappointed if I’d spent £18.99 on it. You might like the reminiscing aspect of this book, but I know you’ll find the lack of plot as frustrating as I did. I’ll be interested to know your thoughts on this one.

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