The breakthrough novel from Britain's most brilliant young critic.
With 'The Mulberry Empire', Philip Hensher, in his fourth book, has now happened upon a subject that suits his many talents perfectly. It's a seemingly straightforward historical novel that recounts an episode in the Great Game in central Asia - the courtship, betrayal and invasion of Afghanistan in the 1830s by the emissaries of Her Majesty's Empire, which is followed by the bloody and summary expulsion of the Brits from Kabul following an Afghani insurrection (shades of the Soviet Union's final imperial fling in the very same country in the 1980s).
The novel has at its heart the encounter between West and East as embodied in the likeable, complex relationship between Alexander Burnes, leader of the initial British expeditionary party, and the wily, cultured Afghani ruler, the Amir Dost Mohammed Khan.
With this book, at last Hensher delivers a fully furnished novel equipped with the kind of scale and accessibility that should see it simultaneously vie for prizes and sell in good quantities to fans of, say, Barry Unsworth, Rose Tremain and Kazuo Ishiguro or for that matter Colin Thubron, Peter Hopkirk and Patrick French – as well as to the smaller, cooler constituency to whom he already appeals.