Saturday, April 21, 2012

King of the Badgers by Philip Henscher published by 4th Estate

Hanmouth, Devon is an English village where the town’s inhabitants are happily living their daily lives.  In the interests of civic safety they have agreed to install CCTV.  As the story unfolds we also see their lives from the inside and all is not what it always appears to be. Why is Sylvie making collages out of penises cut from magazines? Why is the Brigadier’s wife always so chipper?  What makes the new couple in town think they will fit in? Will their son enjoy his visit and who is his new friend?  Do Miranda and Kenyon know each other, let alone their crazy daughter, Heidi?  And why do the people on the neighbouring council estate have to call their suburb Hanmouth, when it quite obviously really isn’t?  And pervading the novel throughout is Mr John Calvin’s insistence that Neighbourhood Watch keeps authorising more cameras. A mix of motivations and intentions all slowly build to create a quirky picture of what really is going on.
The biggest surprise to me was the in your face gay sex party that is hosted for the Bears by local cheese shop owner, Sam and his boy friend Harry or “Lord what a waste”.  It does circumspectly take place behind the tightly closed curtains.  Throughout the novel one character remains distinctly unknown.  She is young China, a girl from the other Hanmouth who disappears and even the CCTV footage doesn’t seem able to help. 
This is a slow moving, beautifully written novel.  Enjoy it for its language and what it does and doesn’t tell you.  Its journey may be more enjoyable for you than its destination.

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