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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, Dr 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 18. 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 and how the legacies of our history can be mastered by the decision to know something about people who are not like us.
"As a fiction writer, Hensher has virtuosity on tap." (New Statesman)
"Hensher's prose can be painterly." (Financial Times)
"Hensher is gifted with a great virtuosity and a relentless intelligence." (Guardian)
What listeners say about The Friendly OnesAverage customer ratings
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- Mrs G
Novel for our times
What did you like about this audiobook?
The most attractive feature of the book is in describing how people from very different places, cultures, religions, when brought together can become friends. It tackles immigration and gives a very humane description how it feels to be incomer, what sacrifices lie behind people who move from one continent to another and how much they need support and how they get it from unlikely people like grumpy old doctor. The book describes hardly mentioned war for independence of Bangladesh and sacrifices those people went through in early seventies. Descriptions how one Bangladesh middle class family tries to fit in with customs of English middle class suburbia are warm and funny. Light was shone on racism intentional and unconscious with humour and deep understanding.
How has the book increased your interest in the subject matter?
The story describes ordinary lives of people through occasional encounters and it covers lives from children being born to schooling , weddings, death. We learn a lot about many characters, but descriptions leave enough for listeners imagination to build up on what we are told by the author. The best part is slow development of friendship between youngish professor of engineering and old doctor.
What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?
Do you have any additional comments?
I can fully recommend listening but I wish I could recommend this book for some official prize.
1 person found this helpful
What disappointed you about The Friendly Ones?
King of the Badgers is one of my all time favourite books and the Emperor Waltz, although flawed, is still very enjoyable. This however is incredibly dull. It just plods on and on without anything truly interesting really happening. The passages set during the 1971 Pakistan-Bangladesh war had all the potential of being a fascinating insight into a little known event but instead is simply rendered plodding and uninteresting. Such a disappointment
What will your next listen be?
Bock 3 in Mick Herron's Slow Horses series
Which character – as performed by Chetan Pathak – was your favourite?
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Disappointment. Such disappointment
Any additional comments?
This book is vast in length. It gives all the impression of simply not having been subject to any real editorial control. There is probably a good book of half the length in there somewhere.
2 people found this helpful
- Fee Fee
Really enjoyed this book. The characterisation was excellent and interested to learn a bit about a piece of history (Bangladeshi independence) that I knew little about. One of those books you never want to finish.
- C. Mcewan
Interesting in parts
I struggled with this. Some parts were very interesting, others were a bit bland. I learned a lot about Bangladesh, something I was completely ignorant of before.
- Alex Marsh
Flawed novel peppered with occasional good writing
This is a very generous three stars for what really should be two and a bit stars. For context, I enjoyed Hensher's The Northern Clemensy tremendously but was less keen on The Emperor Waltz. This one was very frustrating, as it is really two novels in one. The first half reveals patches from the lives of the Spinster family, and is often excellent. The boy Josh's struggles with his superior, amoral cousins stands out in particular, as does the character of Blossom. The patriarch central to the story, Hillary, also leaps off the page as a three dimensional character. The same cannot be said, though, of the Belgali family next door, who most of the same second half of the novel is about. They are a collection of names with very few ideocyncracies and much of their story is historical - a description of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide perpetrated by Pakistan. I felt that the novel would have been infinitely tighter had it only focused on the Spinsters (who themselves are not entirely all totally believable) and left the neighbours alone, who you sense Hensher never truly believes in.