Friday's book: Francis King, Dead Letters, Constable, pounds 16.99

Francis King, Dead Letters,

Constable, pounds 16.99

"You look as I've always imagined Prince Myshkin to look," says the Sicilian Prince of Francis King's 27th novel to the young Australian he has encountered in the rainy streets of Palermo, "except that you look so healthy. A picture of health." His reference to Dostoevsky is lost on Steve Alban, a garage-mechanic from Sydney, backpacking across Europe.

A lift has dumped him in Palermo; it's the weekend; the youth hostel will probably be full. The Prince offers him a room above the garage adjacent to his own shabby grandiose town-house; Steve accepts. The initial response of older man to younger gives us the most important truth about Steve. Like Dostoevsky's Idiot he has a deep innocence, a kindness of heart coexisting with detachment from the mess and intrigue of so much of life.

A self-styled loner, Steve is to bring pain to the Prince as he and his Swedish psychiatrist wife have him as their guest - and restorer of their prize Bugatti. But he never ceases to rejoice in Steve's good nature, so consonant with his strong, confident body.

The Prince is dying. The last of a grand family in decline, passionlessly married, he has for years suffered from accidie, his life's work inhibited: a novel of 19th-century stature reflecting our own mal de siecle. The original will be obvious: Prince Giuseppe di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard. After the Prince's death, the fruit of his years of apparent inactivity is found, delivered to the world - and acclaimed. His achievements are inextricable from Death, and its realm the subject of his novel.

But Steve belongs to life. He knows he has to break free of the Prince and Palermo. Francis King is the most subtle of psychologists, particularly with characters facing ways of life they can't understand. And his subtlety and empathy have never been so movingly revealed than in Steve.

Steve has suffered in his young life, hating his Lithuanian emigre father. He is a loner by temperament, but also by defence. The story of how he breaks through his self-imposed mould for the Prince's final crisis has a moral beauty, all the greater for its honesty.

For the Prince loves Steve, in all senses a foreigner to his emotion. It is an index of King's achievement that we never doubt that the Prince's posthumous novel is of the calibre of The Leopard. We can also see in King's oeuvre a kinship in sensibility and in artistry to Lampedusa. He has done nothing finer than Dead Letters, with its compassionate power and courageous acknowledgement of complexity.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

    £16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

    £9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

    Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn