Punishments

Francis King

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05 December 2013
9781447258124
184 pages
Synopsis

Michael, an attractive young medical student, is eager for experience as he travels to the German University town where he and his English friends will stay in the homes of local undergraduates with whom they will debate, attend lectures and seminars, picnic and swim in the hot summer of 1948.

He is prepared for the desolate landscape, even for the hunger of the people. His own memories of the bombing of London and Coventry; Hitler; the concentration camps are still close at hand. But does the cheerful friendliness of their welcome mask any antagonism? How do the Germans cope with their guilt - if they feel any guilt? How do they suppress their memories of horror? Are the British too crass and patronizing?

As Michael struggles to understand what is going on beneath the surface – and to understand why he is at once attracted to and repelled by the good-looking Jurgen – he comes to realize these few weeks are an experience which will mark him for life.

Francis King, whose 'writing is always accomplished and elegant', (A. S. Byatt) displays those qualities with characteristic aplomb in this subtle, intelligent novel of distinction.

'One of his tautest plots . . . alive with period detail and vividly exhuming an era, King's reconstruction of Germany demoralized and bankrupted by military defeat frequently calls to mind Christopher Isherwood's depictions of the country after the First World War.' Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

'So good and so disturbing . . . reading Francis King closely, as he deserves, is both rewarding and punishing: he forces you to perform your own acts of darkness . . . marvellously described.' Victoria Glendinning, The Times