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December 2, 2011

Book Notes - Philip Hensher ("King of the Badgers")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Philip Hensher's latest novel King of the Badgers is a brilliant commentary on life in modern England while examining the delicate balance between privacy and security.

The Scotsman wrote of the book:

"King of the Badgers is a rich and ambitious novel, which manages both to offer a convincing picture of different levels of English society today and to explore the shifting certainties of individual lives. It is certainly easier to read than to summarise, and this is as it should be. After all, any novel capable of being precisely summed up in a short review is rarely worth reading."

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In his own words, here is Philip Hensher's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, King of the Badgers:

There's a surprising amount of music in my new novel, King of the Badgers. I don't know why. Music is important to me - I love it, and it's been with me, more or less, all my life. So when I wrote a novel about a community in Devon in England, its likes and dislikes, its prejudices and its passions, it's not surprising that it has a knack of creeping in. Here are some of the things that the inhabitants of Hanmouth listen to when they're not gossiping, backbiting, having affairs, sneaking off behind their partners' backs, starting up gay orgies, taking drugs and all the other disgraceful behaviour that small towns are so prone to.

My Brigadier likes "to do the week's ironing on a Tuesday evening, and nothing much got between him, the ironing and Dvorak Evening on the radio." I love Dvorak, too - I love him when he's buoyant and I love him when he's ever so slightly bumptious. There's a town-band quality to Dvorak which is just so lovable, and I hope the brigadier's evening included the lovely Wind Serenade. It has an odd trick, of breaking into a broad smile from time to time.

Like a lot of amateur cellists, another inhabitant of Hanmouth, John Gordon, makes a big show of the Bach G major cello suite. Personally, I'm not that bothered by Bach. It would be nice to think that Mr. Gordon moved on from Bach, of which "some people said it was not only his only piece but his only accomplishment in life" to something a bit grander, such as Brahms's E minor cello sonata. It's one of those wonderful pieces of Brahms which can suddenly make you pause in whatever you were doing with its surprising path.

Some visiting American academics reflect that, where they come from, you had to travel an hour by plane "to glimpse a soprano singing a single note in the German language on an operatic stage." My husband some time ago grew impatient with the curious fact that whenever we go away for the weekend, by some quirk of fate, the only thing which is ever on at the opera house is "Die Walkure". Well, I love it, and it makes me cry infallibly at the end. There is also, in the novel, another Wagner, or at least "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Gotterdammerung, given a one-woman early-morning vocal performance by a thirteen-year old girl. But out of respect to my husband's sensibilities, I'm going to suggest Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. Real double-cream stuff.

On a trip to Japan, my hero Kenyon claims to go into a temple where "there was some sort of ceremony going on inside - I think there must have been ceremonial drumming - and I just sat and let myself be swept away." I think he'd have had much more fun with some proper Japanese pop music. He would love Pizzicato Five's "Twiggy Twiggy."

Sam and Harry, my cheerfully overweight gay men, enjoy the soundtrack to that great film Dil Se in their shop. It must be one of the most thrilling musicals ever made, and the sequence when a whole dance troupe fling themselves about on the roof of a steam train hurtling up the Himalayas is, in my view, the most audacious sequence of any musical film, ever. You can see the farmers and shepherds the train passes standing agape. They just can't believe what they're seeing.

My friend Thomas Ades, the composer, was simply thrilled when I gave Miss Platnum a mention in the novel, as two bickering gays drive off after a disastrous weekend. It was his recommendation, and like most of his recommendations, pure gold. Her massive hit "Mercedes Benz" was the music to my summer - it just makes me laugh so much between bursts of dancing, especially the deathless line "He can fuck off! He can fuck off!" Genius.

At the gay orgy in King of the Badgers, two participants have rather a confused conversation about Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music, White Boy". I adore classic funk and its odder outshoots - I once crossed a continent to see the austere Japanese purist band Osaka Monaurail. I hope as the evening goes on, the music shifts to one of the great classics of the school, the Sly and the Family Stone cover of "Que Sera, Sera." There's nothing better to listen to at the end of the longest evening, as the light starts to fall over the remains of the night before.

Philip Hensher and King of the Badgers links:

the author's Wikipedia entry

Christian Science Monitor review
Daily Beast review
Daily Mail review
The Faster Times review
Financial Times review
Guardian review
Independent review
Lambda Literary review
London Evening Standard review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New Statesman review
New York Times review
New Yorker review
Observer review
Publishers Weekly review
Scotsman review
Spectator review
Telegraph review
Washington Post review

Paris Review interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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