With writers, as with footballers, there comes a time in the career when age starts to be mentioned regularly, either as an explanation for decline or as a cause for a pat on the back for those who ‘defy’ it. The latter smacks of faint praise, of course – ‘good for his age’ – but I think I can justify mentioning that Francis King is eighty-six, because to some degree it serves as an explanation: in part, the novel succeeds precisely because of the author’s age.
The 1940s are a popular setting for novelists, but evoking a historical period is a difficult, and often mismanaged, task. So many historical novels are full of anachronisms, or don’t give enough sense of the era, or nervously give too much sense of the era. Perhaps Francis King,