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
‘I have known contentment, happiness, and relief from anxiety, pain and unslaked yearning . . . How often I wish that I had known more joy.’
Such are the thoughts running through the narrator’s mind as he recovers from a stroke that has left him with tunnel vision. Constantly travelling backwards in memory to a period that he spent in Japan as a research student, he hopes to recapture some of the euphoria of that period of immersion in a culture both so enticing and so alien to him.
Retracing those far-off days with a mixture of longing, regret and guilt, he introduces the reader to the principal figures in his life at the time: his rich wife, bored and unhappy in the suffocating summer heat; his research assistant, the quaint yet efficient Miss Morita; and his mysteriously threatening houseboy Hiro. Utterly absorbed in his study of Japanese art, he fails at first to note that things are not all as they seem. Beneath the apparently sunny surface of his existence a dark chasm is opening.
As his restricted vision forces him to look increasingly inward, so, paradoxically, he begins to see long-past events with sharper focus and more intense clarity – until, in a flash, the recovery of a memory previously submerged reveals to him the nature of the horrendous event that precipitated his stroke.