BOOK REVIEW / Costs a packet in taxi fares: 'Yesterday Came Suddenly' - Francis King: Constable, 16.99

THE fragments of Francis King's life already lie scattered around the two dozen or so novels written since To The Dark Tower, first published nearly half a century ago when the author was a precocious 22. It is impossible to read A Domestic Animal, for example, his claustrophobic novel about a doomed homosexual love affair, without deducing that its basis lies in fact rather than fancy. The Action, a terse account of a novelist enmeshed in a libel suit, peddles a similar message: no one could doubt that someone once took bitter exception to a novel King had written, bit him good and hard, and that King didn't like it.

One of the more mundane satisfactions of Yesterday Came Suddenly, at any rate to anyone who is at all familiar with King's novels, is the proof of their anchorage in the occasionally stormy waters of the author's own career. The inamorato of A Domestic Animal, it turns out, was an Italian philosophy don named Giorgio. The Action, it transpires, is a devious account of King's legal drubbing at the hands of a ludicrous former Labour MP named Tom SkeffingtonLodge. This tendency is pervasive - even minor characters from short stories will suddenly declare themselves by means of a catchphrase or an intonation. The result avoids the snares of the life-into-art concordance but the effect - amid a large amount of socialising and a fair amount of sex - is to remind you that this is in the last resort a literary life. An industrious and far from Olympian one, too.

He has never been a fashionable or particularly successful writer. Even now, despite a minor renaissance under the wing of the Gay Classics lobby, there cannot be more than half a dozen of his books in print. This is a pity, as his Fifties and Sixties fiction, novels such as The Widow and The Custom House, are brilliant evocations of post-war English (or in the latter case, Japanese) life: low-key, ironic, forever clawing away at badly concealed psychological scars. Many a critic has commented on the air of fastidiousness that rises from the average King novel - the sort of books in which the lavatory is always unflushed and the sheets always stained - and the spinsterish hypersensitivity over illness or minor inconvenience. Again, autobiography exposes the roots of these obsessions. Brought up in India, King spent his early childhood trailing round expensive foreign sanatoria, watching his father die by inches from TB. Sent back to England as a 'remittance child', he passed his days in the care of relatives who enjoyed working out exactly how much he cost them in taxi fares. But King did not repine. Public school and Oxford showed him that he had the glimmerings of a talent, and two years spent as a conscientious objector working on the land (which must have taken courage) gave him the chance to exploit it.

Trapped by the chill post-war embrace of the Attlee regime, King found a saviour in the British Council, who allowed him to write his novels while pursuing undemanding desk jobs in places like Florence, Athens and Kyoto. When the routine became too burdensome - though the evidence suggests that the chief drawback was vainglorious superiors - he retired to England, the freelance literary life and its traditional cargo of sweats and anxieties. Inevitably, much of Yesterday Came Suddenly is slightly old-fashioned literary reminiscence, memories of a rather fade group of writers including Ivy Compton-Burnett, Angus Wilson, L P Hartley and Olivia Manning, large numbers of whom seem to have marked these friendships by appointing King as their litetary executor. In fact, judging by the trouble he seems to have expended in clearing up J R Ackerley's affairs, much of his later life must have been taken up in interviewing solicitors.

King is scrupulously fair to these old friends - Ivy ComptonBurnett mouldering in her flat, Ackerley and his wretched dog - but not above injecting a shrewd note of asperity. This is an unassuming memoir, modest about its subject's achievements, both literary and administrative (he was an effective president of International PEN), but never bland: the sections in which he describes the death of his adored mother (from old age) or his lover (from Aids) are characteristically unsparing. Beyond, the tense, neurotic world of his fiction stretches out to meet the silent darkness.

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...