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Brocaded

Robert Macfarlane: The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher, 4 April 2002

The Mulberry Empire 
by Philip Hensher.
Flamingo, 560 pp., £17.99, April 2002, 0 00 711226 2
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... Several years ago, Philip Hensher decided that he wanted ‘to do something impossible: to write a 19th-century novel’. To that end, he has composed each of the many chapters of The Mulberry Empire, which fictionalises the First Afghan War of 1839-42, in imitation of a 19th-century prose writer. He has gleefully scrumped the styles of Dickens, Surtees, Tolstoy, Custine, Thackeray, Eliot, Austen, Gogol and possibly dozens of others – ‘possibly’, because he never names the writers he’s pastiching: it’s up to the reader to identify them ...

Sinister Blandishments

Edmund White: Philip Hensher, 3 September 1998

Pleasured 
by Philip Hensher.
Chatto, 304 pp., £14.99, August 1998, 0 7011 6728 9
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... Friedrich, the young protagonist of Philip Hensher’s third novel, Pleasured, lives the sort of dismal half-life that was possible in Berlin before the Wall came down, the period when West Germans received subventions just for taking up residence there. It was a city that attracted the very old, who needed to bulk up their pensions, and the young, who wanted to study or just vegetate – or to escape compulsory military service (another advantage of living in Berlin ...

When the Costume Comes Off

Adam Mars-Jones: Philip Hensher, 14 April 2011

King of the Badgers 
by Philip Hensher.
Fourth Estate, 436 pp., £18.99, March 2011, 978 0 00 730133 1
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... insolent and immune, where its existence is never guessed’ (that’s Proust, of course). With Philip Hensher, there’s no question of having to crank up an interest outside his constituency, since homosexuality has until now played a relatively small part in his fiction. The Northern Clemency (2008) showed an extraordinary flair for building up the ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Telly, 9 August 2001

... Perhaps they were thinking of the non-story of last year in which someone who wasn’t Philip Hensher didn’t get hit by someone who wasn’t James Thackara, after Hensher, reviewing Thackara’s first novel, said he couldn’t ‘write “Bum” on a wall’. At least Norman Mailer did head-butt Gore ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Nephews and Daughters, 23 January 2003

... to be the people who’d compiled it. The Today programme tried to get a dispute going between Philip Hensher (37), one of the chosen writers, and Ian Jack (57), the editor of Granta and chair of the judges, after Hensher said he thought it was silly and arbitrary that novelists had to be under 40 to be ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: Handwriting, 8 November 2012

... We are fighting a losing battle,’ Philip Hensher writes in The Missing Ink, his funny, exasperated book in defence of handwriting.* He has no difficulty spotting the enemy. Consider the advice from the Indiana Department of Education last year that only proficiency with a keyboard would be expected of pupils in its charge ...

A Turn for the Woowoo

Theo Tait: David Mitchell, 4 December 2014

The Bone Clocks 
by David Mitchell.
Sceptre, 595 pp., £20, September 2014, 978 0 340 92160 9
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... researched, gruesome detail and ‘period’ dialogue; love affairs across ethnic boundaries). Philip Hensher amusingly panned that book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), which was set on a Dutch trading post in Nagasaki Bay in 1799, as ‘an exotically situated romance of astounding vulgarity’. ...

Unreal Food Uneaten

Julian Bell: Sitting for Vanessa, 13 April 2000

The Art of Bloomsbury 
edited by Richard Shone.
Tate Gallery, 388 pp., £35, November 1999, 1 85437 296 3
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First Friends 
by Ronald Blythe.
Viking, 157 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 670 88613 0
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Bloomsbury in France 
by Mary Ann Caws and Sarah Bird Wright.
Oxford, 430 pp., £25, December 1999, 0 19 511752 2
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... underestimate the tenacity of cultural stereotypes and the stale-mindedness of press writers like Philip Hensher (who twice rehashed Leavis’s line that the ‘set’ were not artists but self-publicists) and Waldemar Januszczak (‘Bloomsbury. Just tapping out these ten tedious letters has brought on a severe attack of RSI’). Yet in truth – to ...

swete lavender

Thomas Jones: Molesworth, 17 February 2000

Molesworth 
by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.
Penguin, 406 pp., £8.99, October 1999, 0 14 118240 7
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... this stuff and roaring with larffter since i was 11 yrs old’ (which, if nothing else, endorses Philip Hensher’s assertion in the introduction to this edition that those who attempt to imitate Molesworth’s style always ‘come a cropper’). Hensher, too, at ‘inexplicable moments’, has had to ‘lay down Down ...

Up from the Cellar

Nicholas Spice: The Interment of Elisabeth Fritzl, 5 June 2008

Greed 
by Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Martin Chalmers.
Serpent’s Tail, 340 pp., £7.99, July 2008, 978 1 84668 666 5
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... Reviewers of Greed have met it at best with polite puzzlement, at worst with disdain. Philip Hensher said it was ‘atrocious’. And he was right – Greed is unreadable. But it is not the same book as Gier. What has also been atrocious has been the failure of anyone reviewing it to go back and read the German. One of the favourite ways ...

Who Are They?

Jenny Turner: The Institute of Ideas, 8 July 2010

... its big names too: Paul Mason from Newsnight, Suzanne Moore from the Mail on Sunday, the novelist Philip Hensher. Some people refuse to stand on an IoI platform, considering them clandestine and creepy. Others are a bit doubtful, but take part in the events in the interests of free debate. Others again want the exposure and don’t care about the IoI’s ...

The Strange Death of Municipal England

Tom Crewe: Assault on Local Government, 15 December 2016

... and its effects quietly naturalised as part of Theresa May’s new political settlement. Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Statement, delivered to Parliament on 23 November, confirmed that this is the ambition: none of Osborne’s major planned cuts was reversed, an overall budget surplus remains the goal (simply postponed from 2020 to 2025), planned ...

‘I worry a bit, Joanne’

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘The Casual Vacancy’, 25 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy 
by J.K. Rowling.
Little, Brown, 503 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 4087 0420 2
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... It’s not just Victorian models that make The Casual Vacancy seem a bit thin and monochrome. Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers, published last year, also has a West Country setting (frankly Devonian), not to mention a self-consciously pretty town trying to set itself apart from a larger settlement nearby, disowning any connection with a ...

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