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The Friendly Ones

$32.99

Product Description

The things history will do at the bidding of love

On a warm Sunday afternoon, Nazia and Sharif are preparing for a family barbecue. They are in the house in Sheffield that will do for the rest of their lives. In the garden next door is a retired doctor, whose four children have long since left home. When the shadow of death passes over Nazia and Sharif's party, Doctor Spinster's actions are going to bring the two families together, for decades to come.

The Friendly Ones is about two families. In it, people with very different histories can fit together, and redeem each other. One is a large and loosely connected family who have come to England from the subcontinent in fits and starts, brought to England by education, and economic possibilities. Or driven away from their native country by war, murder, crime and brutal oppression – things their new neighbours know nothing about. At the heart of their story is betrayal and public shame. The secret wound that overshadows the Spinsters, their neighbours next door, is of a different kind: Leo, the eldest son, running away from Oxford University aged eighteen. How do you put these things right, in England, now?

Spanning decades and with a big and beautifully drawn cast of characters all making their different ways towards lives that make sense, The Friendly Ones, Philip Hensher's moving and timely new novel, shows what a nation is made of; how the legacies of our history can be mastered by the decision to know something about people who are not like us.

Author: Philip Hensher

Hardcover, 624 Pages, Published 2018

Reviews:

"The new novel from this gay British writer has no gay characters or content whatsoever, though it does owe a great debt to the author’s husband Zaved, who was born in 1970 in East Pakistan as a war of independence erupted. Hensher told the story of Zaved’s childhood in a previous novel Scenes from Early Life, but here he fleshes out an expansive and fascinating story of two families, neighbours in suburban Sheffield, told over many decades. Hilary Spinster is a white British doctor with a wife and four children; while the Sharifullahs are an upwardly mobile Bengali family, who fled the 1971 Bangladeshi genocide and war with Pakistan. The novel opens with Nazia and Sharif hosting a house-warming barbecue for their extended family. It’s a chaotic opening with a vast number of characters while their neighbour, the recently retired Doctor Spinster, is perched up a ladder, pruning a tree, and observing the goings-on. But if the reader is feeling overwhelmed by all these characters, suddenly a dramatic, life-threatening event occurs, drawing these two families together. Simultaneously it hooks the reader into the lives of first the Spinsters, and then the Sharifullahs over many decades and almost 600 pages. It’s a deeply rewarding and pleasurable read, although probably best attempted when you have the time to devote to it. It’s also likely to provide an education into the recent history of Bangladesh which many Australian readers will likely have scant knowledge of. The richly developed characters are also a highlight of the book, from the comically ghastly offspring of the Spinster children through to a first class villain, Mahfouz. He is Sharif’s brother-in-law who is referred to as a war criminal early on in the book and then gradually the extent of his treachery is revealed. It’s a remarkable novel, especially as much of it is based not from the author's direct experiences, but from those of his husband, and presumably observation and research."

Recommended by Graeme

 

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