King of the Badgers – by Philip Hensher

KOBUnlike the book group in Hanmouth, where ‘some can’t even finish the book after a month’s notice’, our group read and, monthly, enjoyed this book. Some thought that the author was better than Patrick Gale or Alan Hollinghurst at writing about this sort of setting and more humorous. Many want to read more from him.

Someone who used to live in North Devon said that this place was typical. He thought he knew a Miranda in real life. As in real life, we don’t learn too much detail about people: we only know about them from encounters. ‘It’s like The Archers on speed,’ one said.

There was a good description of Paddington and annoyance at slow people when one is rushing for a train

There were good references to popular culture.

We get stereotypes: upper-middle-class villagers are shallow, selfish, and fat: being lower-class implies you are uneducated, grasping, and willing to do anything; being gay means that you go to wild orgies with drugs. Straights’ are obsessed with anal sex

There is a UKIP tendency: criminals are likely to have black accents and CCTV is mainly to monitor youth.

I liked the notion of Devon as a suburb of London. I disliked the description of Simon Russell Beale as someone of “real quality” because I can’t stand him.

The repetition of ‘He made love to the little girl.’ Was creepy and one person thought that abuse was too serious a topic to weave a humorous story around.

One thought that the chapters were too short and wondered whether the author committed himself to writing a set number of words each day and stopped once that target was met.

There is a seeming absence of editing – someone flew from Rome to London but we are later told it was in the other direction.

It was well-written, so the Americanism of ‘donators’ for ‘donors’ was a little jarring.

We are still not sure as to the origin of the title.

Quotations

“at its most expensive, unfettered views of the estuary and the hills beyond, crested with a remote and ducal folly-tower.”

“In any case,” Heidi said to the police later, quite calmly, “I knew China hadn’t gone to visit her friends for one straight and simple reason. She doesn’t have any friends. She’s not been a popular girl, ever. They bully her, I expect, because they say she’s fat and she smells. I don’t think she smells, but at that age, it’s always some reason they’ve got to pick on her, isn’t it? I knew she hadn’t gone to visit a friend. To tell the truth, I thought at first, China, she’s playing some trick on her brother and sister. I’ll tan her hide, I thought at first.”

 She was aware of the dangers to a woman of her size and age of flowing red and purple velvet, of ethnic beads  and the worst that Hampstead Bazaar could do. She would not, like most of Hanmouth’s women, be inspired by Dame Judi Dench on an Oscar night, and she dressed , as far as possible, in the black and white lines and corners of the fat wife of a Weimar architect.

“Child Pornography,” “Slightly Jewish,” “Dead in Childbirth” and “Shitface.”

“The thing I truly object to, Kitty said, “and I know this sounds trivial and I don’t care if it sounds a bit snobbish, but I do care about this. It’s that the whole world now thinks of Hanmouth as being this sort of awful council estate and nothing else, and Hanmouth people like this awful Heidi and Mickey people. Absolutely everything you read in the papers is about how they live in Hanmouth, and frankly, they don’t. They live on the Ruskin estate, where I’ve never been and I hope never to go anywhere near.”

“I saw a newspaper photographer in a boat in the middle of the estuary, taking photographs,” Sam said eagerly. “Out there in Brian Miller’s ferryboat. Taking a photograph of the church and the strand and the quay. That’ll turn up in the Sun as a photograph of Heidi’s home town, I promise you.”

“As if that family could live somewhere like this.”

“Or, really, more to the point, as if they would ever contrive a story like this if they did live on the Strand,” Miranda said. “One may be cynical, but one does think that moral attitudes and truthfulness and not having your children kidnapped for the sake of the exposure don’t go with deprivation. It’s material deprivation that starts all this off.”

“They’ve got dishwashers, Miranda,” Bill said. “They’re not examples of material deprivation . But you’re right. You don’t hear about children disappearing from Hanmouth proper, do you? It’s just bad education, ignorance, idleness and avarice.’

“And drugs,” put in Sam. Don’t forget the drugs.”

“Why do we say ‘the cockles of your heart’?” David said. “Nothing to do with whelks, I suppose.”
“Previously, gay life had seemed a merry series of cabinet reshuffles and rearrangements, in which everyone was single for a time, then paired off for a time. If you stood still with a welcoming smile on your face, sooner or later somebody would come over and sit on it.”

“It happened to some people, that obsession with throwing their clothes off at an age when it would be best to keep them on.”

“You need to start making an effort,” Richard said. “There’s a thing called the gay scene nowadays. It happens in large cities – London, Manchester, er, wherever.”

“… something very unusual, a chocolate-flavoured log of goats’ cheese. “Made by lesbians in Wales,” Sam had explained superfluously.”
Previously, gay life had seemed a merry series of cabinet reshuf­fles and rearrangements, in which everyone was single for a time, then paired off for a time. If you stood still with a welcoming smile on your face, sooner or later somebody would come over and sit on it.

“Previously, gay life had seemed a merry series of cabinet reshuffles and rearrangements, in which everyone was single for a time, then paired off for a time. If you stood still with a welcoming smile on your face, sooner or later somebody would come over and sit on it.”

“It happened to some people, that obsession with throwing their clothes off at an age when it would be best to keep them on.”

“You need to start making an effort,” Richard said. “There’s a thing called the gay scene nowadays. It happens in large cities – London, Manchester, er, wherever.”
“… something very unusual, a chocolate-flavoured log of goats’ cheese. “Made by lesbians in Wales,” Sam had explained superfluously.”

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