The Northern Clemency
by Philip Hensher
(Knopf, 597 pages, $26.95)

Philip Hensher’s huge and hugely likable novel about two neighboring middle-class families seems an improbable choice for’s best book of the year, said Ron Charles in The Washington Post. Not only is The Northern Clemency so light on plot that “it’s easy to imagine some readers waiting impatiently—and futilely—for the story to begin.” It’s also set mostly in Sheffield, England. But as the nine members of the two clans bond in 1974, then “reconnect in surprising ways” over the next two decades, a reader who’s patient enough “will fall in love with its startlingly perceptive depiction” of how the everyday dramas of life unfold. Hensher writes with such easy wit and acuity that you close the book “feeling like a more insightful person.” Hensher actually provides “plenty of action,” said Martin Rubin in The Wall Street Journal. Halfway through, for instance, he inserts “a powerful account” of the 1984 miners’ strike “that so racked British society.” But social history is mostly background music in a novel as pleasingly old-fashioned as this. “Even Dickens” would have recognized Hensher as a kindred spirit.