Other books byPhilip Hensher
The Mulberry Empire
With Tolstoyan sweep and Dickensian vitality, this epically involving historical novel relates England’s tragic adventure in Afghanistan, which began with the triumphant arrival of the Army of the Indus in 1839 and ended three years later in rout and massacre. At the center of The Mulberry Empire is Alexander Burnes, a Scots explorer who travels to the unfathomably remote kingdom of Afghanistan and first befriends and then reluctantly betrays its wise and impeccably courteous Amir. But he is only one character in a cast that includes ladies and generals, princes and deserters, all brilliantly and sympathetically realized. At once stirring and harrowing, exotic and cautionary, and as vividly colored as a Persian miniature, the result is a tour de force of re-creation and invention. From the Trade Paperback edition.
King of the Badgers
Far from London’s crime and pollution, Hanmouth’s wealthier residents live in picturesque, heavily mortgaged cottages in the center of a town packed with artisanal cheese shops and antiques stores. They’re reminded of the town’s less desirable outskirts—with their grim, flimsy housing stock and chain stores—only when their neighbors have the presumption to claim also to live in Hanmouth. When an eight-year-old girl from the outer area goes missing, England’s eyes suddenly turn toward the sleepy town with a curiosity as piercing and unblinking as the closed-circuit security cameras that line Hanmouth’s idyllic streets. But somehow these cameras have missed the abduction of the girl, whose name is China. Is her blank-eyed hairdresser mother hiding her as part of a moneymaking hoax? Has she been abducted by one of the lurking perverts the townspeople imagine the cameras are protecting them from? Perhaps more cameras are needed? As it turns out, more than one resident of Hanmouth has a secret hidden behind closed doors. There’s Sam and Harry, the cheesemonger and aristocrat who lead the county’s gay orgies. The quiet husband of postcolonial theorist Miranda (everyone agrees she’s marvelous) keeps a male lover, while their daughter disembowels dolls she’s named Child Pornography and Slightly Jewish. Moral crusader John Calvin’s Neighborhood Watch has an unusual reason for holding its meetings in secret. And, of course, somewhere out there is the house where little China is hidden. With the dark hilarity and unflinching honesty of a modern-day Middlemarch, King of the Badgers demolishes the already fragile privacy of Hanmouth’s inhabitants. These characters, exquisitely drawn and rawly human, proclaim Philip Hensher’s status as an extraordinary chronicler of the domestic, and one of the world’s most dazzling and ambitious novelists.
Scenes from Early Life
“Beautifully packed with detail . . . Does for Bangladesh what Rushdie did for India.” —The Sunday Times From the Man Booker–short-listed author of The Northern Clemency, a family and a nation—Bangladesh—are forged through storytelling, conversation, jokes, feuds, blood, songs, bravery, and sacrifice. In late 1970 a boy named Saadi is born into a large, defiantly Bengali family in eastern Pakistan. Months later the country splits in two in what will become one of the most ferocious twentieth-century civil wars. Saadi tells the story of his childhood and of the ingenious ways his family survived the violence and conflicts: from his aunts stuffing him with sweets to stop marauding soldiers from hearing him cry, to street games based on American television shows; from the basement compartment his grandfather built to hide his treasured books, pictures, and music until after the war, to the daily gossip about each and every one of the relatives, servants, and neighbors. Scenes from Early Life is a beautifully detailed novel of profound empathy—an attempt to capture the collective memory of a family and a country. At once heartbreaking and surprisingly funny, Scenes from Early Life is based on the life of Philip Hensher’s husband, and as such it is at once a memoir, a novel, and a history. As this remarkable writer brings the past to life, we come to feel, vividly and viscerally, that Saadi’s family—and its struggles and triumphs—are our own.
The Missing Ink
The Lost Art of Handwriting
The loop of an “l,” the chewed-on pen, letters tiny or expansive: what we’ve lost in the error of typing and texting When Philip Hensher realized that he didn’t know what a close friend’s handwriting looked like, he felt that something essential was missing from their friendship. It dawned on him that having abandoned pen and paper for keyboards, we have lost one of the ways by which we come to recognize and know another person: handwriting. The Missing Ink tells the story of this endangered art. Hensher introduces us to the nineteenth-century handwriting evangelists who traveled across America to convert the masses to the moral worth of copperplate script; he examines the role handwriting plays in the novels of Charles Dickens; he investigates the claims made by the practitioners of graphology that penmanship can reveal personality. But this is also a celebration of the physical act of writing: the treasured fountain pens, chewable ballpoints, and personal embellishments that we stand to lose. Hensher pays tribute to the warmth and personality of the handwritten love note, postcards sent home, and daily diary entries. With the teaching of handwriting now required in only five states and many expert typists barely able to hold a pen, the future of handwriting is in jeopardy. Or is it? Hugely entertaining, witty, and thought-provoking, The Missing Ink will inspire readers to pick up a pen and write.