The Friendly Ones by Philip Hensher review – love, loss and banter in multicultural Britain

A story about two families in Sheffield – one white English; the other from Bangladesh – meanders through the decades

Like his Man Booker-shortlisted 2008 novel The Northern Clemency, Philip Hensher’s new book is set in Sheffield and describes the lives of two families over recent decades. And like his semi-biographical Scenes from Early Life, it includes many descriptions of the 1971 war of liberation in Bangladesh. While the Spinster family is white and English, like Hensher’s own, their neighbours the Sharifullahs are, like his husband, from Dhaka.

In keeping with Hensher’s recent output, the novel is an ample work: 624 dense pages are stuffed with an immense cast of characters. There are lengthy journeys by train and car, many very detailed meals, and buckets of chat. The setting is bulked out with quantities of period detail – Hensher is especially good on interior design, and snacks – ...