After the success of The Mulberry Empire and The Northern Clemency, which was short-listed for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Philip Hensher brings us the peaceful civility and spiralling paranoia of the small English town of Handsmouth.
Usually a quiet and undisturbed place situated on an estuary, Handsmouth becomes the centre of national attention when an eight-year-old girl vanishes. The town fills with journalists and television crews, who latch onto the public's fearful suspicions that the missing girl, the daughter of one of the town's working-class families, was abducted.
This tragic event serves to expose the range of segregated existences in the town, as spectrums of class, wealth, and lifestyle are blurred in the investigation. Behind Handsmouth's closed doors and pastoral façade the extraordinary individual lives of the community are exposed. The undisclosed passions of a quiet international aid worker are set against his wife, a woman whose astonishing aptitude for intellectual pursuits, such as piano-playing and elaborate cooking, makes her seem a paragon of virtue to the outside world. A recently widowed old woman tells a story that details her late discovery of sexual gratification. And the Bears - middle-aged, fat, hairy gay men, given to promiscuity and some drug abuse - have a party.
As the search for the missing girl elevates, the case enables a self-appointed authority figure to present the case for increased surveillance, and, as old notions of privacy begin to crack, private lives seep into the public well of knowledge.
Handsmouth is a powerful study of the vital importance of individuality, the increasingly intrusive hand of political powers, and the unyielding strength of Nature against the worst excesses of human behaviour.
"Hensher has a forensic eye for detail, providing nightmarish glimpses of the everyday…. engrossing, amusing and moving." (The Independant)
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State of England
Multi-faceted novel written for adults
Complex, contemporary, intelligent.
Sam the cheesemonger, because I readily identified with him - as an urbane gay man vegetating in a dismal semi-rural setting.
Nothing specific; although he is an excellent narrator with a good command of dialect. As a result of hearing it read, I do in fact intend to purchase the book, so I can re-experience its layered complexity in a non-linear way.
Any attempt to film the book would distort it beyond recognition. Literature does some things infinitely better.
I don't think the gay sex scenes (few in number) are terribly graphic. The lady in Boots and I obviously have widely differing lifestyles.
- common reader