Philip Hensher was born in London and was educated at Oxford University.
His doctoral thesis, at Cambridge University, was on eighteenth-century English painting. He is the author of several novels and a collection of short stories and he wrote the libretto for Thomas Adés’ opera Powder Her Face, based on the life of the Duchess of Argyll. He is a regular broadcaster and contributes reviews and articles to various newspapers and journals including The Spectator, the Mail on Sunday and The Independent.
His first novel, Other Lulus (1994), set in Vienna, centres on a young girl’s discovery of a family connection with the composer Alban Berg. His six years spent working at the House of Commons in London provided the backdrop to his second novel, Kitchen Venom, published in 1996. The book combines a story of murder and intrigue at the House with a deft account of the eccentric relationships and rituals that have been played out for centuries. It won a Somerset Maugham Award and sparked controversy when it was revealed that the author had been sacked from his job as a parliamentary clerk after giving an interview to the gay magazine Attitude. Pleasured (1998), his third novel, is set in Berlin on the eve of the fall of the Wall. His short story, Dead Languages, was included by A. S. Byatt in The Oxford Book of English Short Stories (1998). The Bedroom of the Mister’s Wife, a collection of short stories, was published in 1999. Many of the stories had previously been broadcast on radio or published in newspapers and magazines including Granta, The Independent and the Erotic Review. The Mulberry Empire (2002), is a love story and an account of conflicting imperial ambitions during the first Anglo-Afghan war.
In 2003, Philip Hensher was nominated by Granta magazine as one of 20 ‘Best of Young British Novelists’. His latest novels are The Northern Clemency (2008), shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book), King of the Badgers (2011), Scenes from Early Life: A novel (2012) and The Emperor Waltz (2014).
He lives in South London and is a member of the Council of the Royal Society of Literature.