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The Northern Clemency

A novel paints a detailed portrait of England, from Thatcher to Blair.

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On a hot night in August in Sheffield, England, the Glovers give a dinner party with none of the guests of honor in attendance. The Sellers, their new neighbors and the ostensible reason for the party, aren’t moving in until tomorrow.

Katherine Glover’s boss, Nick – the real reason she put on a long blue dress and cooked such tempting delights as Coronation chicken and potatoes pin-cushioned with toothpicks of cheese, pineapples, and cold sausage – cancels at the last minute.

The following day, the Sellers move in and Katherine’s husband walks out, setting in motion the next two decades of the families’ lives. Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency, which was a finalist for the Booker Prize and chosen as Amazon’s Best Book of the Year, is so precisely rendered, one can easily imagine it becoming required reading for set designers everywhere.

Sheffield is best known to Americans from “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty,” and the 1984 miners’ strike that plays pivotal roles in both of those movies is observed in the close detail that Hensher brings to everything from 1970s dinner party nibbles to women’s suits circa early 1980s. (Oh, the bows!)

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