A Surrey village in the final months of the war with the occasional V1 thundering overhead ...Against this backdrop a group of people, linked by events, play their game of patience: Hugh Thurloe, a former architect, is absent - either a prisoner of the Japanese or dead, at home his wife, mother and son wait for him or for news. A pacifist, exempt from active service on condition that he works on the land, waits for the chance to return to university; and the wife of one of his friends, also a pacifist, waits for her husband to come out of prison. A farmer and his sister wait for the death of their father, afflicted with a long and painful illness. And all these people are observed by seventeen year old Valerie, daughter of a well-known M.P. She too is waiting - for an end to the V1s that fill her with totally unreasoning panic and for much else besides. This complicated game of patience is disrupted by the arrival of a balloon-barrage crew - brash invaders of a place previously too secluded to have felt the full impact of war.
The tensions between the newcomers and the original players of the game, and the increasing tensions between the players themselves, provide the theme of Francis King's novel which is as solid in characterisation, as adroit in story-telling and as subtle in its evocation of atmosphere as all his work.
Born in Switzerland, Francis King spent his childhood in India, where his father was a government official. While still an undergraduate at Oxford he published his first three novels. He then joined the British Council, working in Italy, Greece, Egypt, Finland and Japan, before he resigned to devote himself entirely to writing. For some years he was drama critic for the Sunday Telegraph and he reviewed fiction regularly for the Spectator. He won the Somerset Maugham Prize, the Katherine Mansfield Prize and the Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year Award for Act of Darkness (1983). His penultimate book, The Nick of Time, was long-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize. Francis King died in 2011. "One of our great writers, of the calibre of Graham Greene and Nabokov." Beryl Bainbridge
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