After the success of The Northern Clemency, shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Philip Hensher brings us another slice of contemporary life, this time the peaceful civility and spiralling paranoia of a small English town.
Hanmouth, situated where the river Hand flows into the Bristol channel, is usually quiet and undisturbed. But it becomes the centre of national attention when an eight-year-old girl vanishes. 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 Hanmouth's closed doors and pastoral façade, the extraordinary individual lives of the community are laid bare. The undisclosed passions of a quiet international aid worker are set against his wife, seemingly 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 have a memorable party. As the search for the missing girl continues, the case is made for increased surveillance, and old notions of privacy begin to crack.
King of the Badgers is a powerful study of the vital importance of individuality and the increasingly intrusive hand of political powers. Like its predecessor, it is another devastating – but frequently very funny – portrait of England from one of this country's finest novelists.
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