Although he had won the Somerset Maugham Award for his gay novel Kitchen Venom (drawing on his experiences clerking in the House of Commons, until he was fired for an interview he gave to a gay magazine) and was by two decades the youngest writer included in The Oxford Book of English Short Stories edited by AS Byatt, Philip Hensher's breakthrough came at thirty-seven with his fourth novel The Mulberry Empire [Kindle]. Enthralling readers at every level, it was longlisted for the Booker, shortlisted for the WH Smith People's Choice award, and selected by twelve critics as their best book of 2002. The next year Granta named him one of the best young British novelists. His even greater sixth novel, a big, gay-inclusive panorama of Sheffield called The Northern Clemency [Kindle] was shortlisted for the Booker and named by the US editors of Amazon their #1 overall best book of 2008. Since then he's published another large novel King of the Badgers [Kindle] (memorable for its respectable, bear couple hosting their monthly, drug-dabbling gay orgy the same night the village newcomers have a cocktail party, with some impromptu cross-pollination), a nonfiction book about the lost art of handwriting, and, expanding his scope yet again, 2012's Scenes from Early Life, the story of his husband Zaved Mahmood's privileged childhood in wartime Bangladesh told in novel form, which won the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize. Coming this summer is his ninth novel The Emperor Waltz spanning fourth-century Rome, 1920s Germany, and 1980s London. Today he's 49.
Ambushed by an interviewer in 2008 asking for book recommendations he said, "Henry Green, Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Mann, Dickens, Natalia Ginzburg, James Buchan, John Buchan come to that, Thackeray, Tolstoy, Penelope Fitzgerald, Kingsley Amis, - a new but ferocious enthusiasm - and Martin Amis, too, who has reignited an old enthusiasm with his terrific new novel The Pregnant Widow. Who else? Dawn Powell, Tove Jansson, Ali Smith, Elizabeth Taylor. God, I don't know. Stop me."
(Photo by Karen Robinson via)