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The “state of the nation” novel, it seems, is back in fashion. This spring sees a rush of novels taking in Britain’s recent past, from the 1970s to the Blair years. One of them—The Northern Clemency—is by Philip Hensher, who in this month’s magazine writes about the origins of the genre, and surveys the novels that are competing alongside his own in this suddenly rather crowded corner of the market. Hensher is less than impressed with the competition. Surveying new works by Hanif Kureishi, Louis de Berniers, Richard Kelly and Helen Walsh, among others, he writes: “Where these books fail, I…

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