intense sensations

Rumour, truth and lies in book reviews

Posted on: October 24, 2011

PleasuredPleasured by Philip Hensher

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There has been a lot of fuss about the Booker prize in the UK recently, which is meant to recognise the best literary books being written today. Some commentators were astonished that some of the best literary novelists were not even on the shortlist. I decided to buy the books of some of these unfortunate but brilliant authors who were overlooked by this year’s judges. Philip Hensher is one of them, though this is an older book of his, from 1998.

I chose this novel, Pleasured, after reading many reviews on Amazon. In the end I chose it because it was set in Berlin just before the fall of the Wall. I have a number of books set in Berlin. It is a city that interests me a lot. So I decided that even if the novel is no good, I will at least get something of interest from it.

The novel is no good.

But I am getting something of interest from it because of the Berlin setting.

Rather than say any more about the book, which I’m only half-way through, I’d like to say something about the endorsements plastered all over it.

“Hensher’s finest novel to date, at once literary and cinematic, intimate and epic.”

Translation: His other books are even worse than this. The characters are living in a city where something momentous happens but they are too dull and self-obsessed for it to have much of an impact on them.

“A sublimely structured and sophisticated novel…”

Translation: Not much happens but the few things that do happen are strangely jumbled up.

“A novel whose ambitious scale is matched only by the steely elegance of its author’s control…”

Translation: The author is hoping that by setting his novel at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it will somehow acquire the importance of that event. He doesn’t seem to have anything important to say about it, though.

“Pleasured will be seen as a stepping stone in the development of an important new voice in British fiction.”

Translation: Surely he could do better than this.

“Hensher’s most ambitious novel to date, it is also his most satisfying.”

Translation: He’s trying hard but he’s not much competition for me, I’m glad to say.

“Hensher has clearly set out to write the defining novel of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. He may well have succeeded.”

Translation: This is a really lame book that doesn’t live up to expectations.

“Hensher is acute in his perception of how history is compounded of rumour, truth and lies.”

Translation: I can’t find anything good to say about the writing so I’ll say something about the publishing industry instead.

“An engrossing read … Perhaps the greatest achievement of this highly original and accomplished novel is the skill with which the themes of evasion and loss – and the prospect of recovery – are related to the looming presence of the Wall.”

Translation: My own novel has just been published and I’m hoping for a good review in The Spectator where Philip Hensher is the chief reviewer.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits

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