In a photograph publicising Granta’s list of the best young British novelists in 2013, Adam Foulds stood out as the only author wearing a suit and tie. Against the swath of colour displayed by the other writers, he cut an austere, faintly T S Eliot-ish figure in a dark navy suit. Foulds’s prose possesses a similar boxed-in formality; the reader is often left with a sense of what is withheld rather than what is given. It’s a style that has been well matched to the historical settings of his previous fiction and poetry, such as the Victorian lunatic asylum in his Booker-shortlisted second novel, The Quickening Maze (2009), and the stifling air of colonial decline in 1950s Kenya in his long poem The Broken Word (2008).
In the Wolf’s Mouth is, like The Quickening Maze, an orthodox historical novel. The majority of the narrative unfolds during the Second World War, or, more precisely, during the Allied invasion of North Africa and Sicily in 1942–3. The novel opens, however, with a prewar Sicilian prologue in 1926. Initially