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- Publication date:
- May 5, 2009
- NYRB Classics
A New York Review Books Original
In his more than eighty years, Francis Wyndham has published very little—one novella and two collections of stories—but his is one of the most individual and compelling bodies of work by a contemporary English writer. As Alan Hollinghurst has said, Wyndham’s fiction stands in the tradition of social comedy that goes back through Henry James to Jane Austen, with this difference: Wyndham writes about the lives of privileged and even titled people, but he is drawn to outcasts and odd ducks, adolescents, lonely women, addicts, eccentrics, and idlers.
The earliest stories here, gathered under the title Out of the War, are brilliant vignettes of deprivation and desire written during World War II. The later Mrs Henderson and Other Stories, by contrast, offers scrupulously observed tragicomic pictures of the vagaries of upper-class English family life. Finally, in the Whitbread Prize—winning short novel The Other Garden, a shy teenage boy living in the country strikes up an unlikely friendship with Kay, the thirty-something daughter of neighbors, sister to a famous actor, and black sheep of her family. Kay, with her whims and crazes and boyfriends, is unable to hold her own against her family’s disapproval, and the narrator watches with helpless fascination as her small but very real tragedy is played out against the background of the Second World War.
The Complete Fiction of Francis Wyndham, which also includes the 1985 Mrs. Henderson and Other Stories and the 1987 novella The Other Garden, is a collection of beguiling consistency.
— The Boston Phoenix
One of the great authors of the 20th century…He has been compared to Jane Austen, Henry James and P.G. Wodehouse—he is as satirical as the first, as dry as the second and as funny (well, not quite) as the third. Like them, his topic is the British bourgeoisie, but his era touches our own, and his lodestone is World War II…it is the author’s most recent writings—”Mrs. Henderson and Other Stories”—that are shocking and beautiful in their pitch-perfect evocation of an era only just lost, an era that still echoes.
Wyndham, a legend in contemporary English letters, is pretty much unknown here. As an editor, he mentored Bruce Chatwin and V.S. Naipaul and rediscovered Jean Rhys. As a writer, he has published little—only three books in 40 years, but this is fiction of outstanding quality, short stories on the whole, posed somewhere between Henry James and Jane Austen.
— Los Angeles Times
Beautifully written, full of emotional honesty, these are stories to savour, and reread.
— The Times (London)
Wyndham’s prose has an almost luminous clarity of expression, and he is excellent at capturing not just the detail but the mood of a particular period.
— Times Literary Supplement
Exceptionally accomplished…a writer who never wastes a word or puts one wrong…He belongs in a tradition of social comedy going back through Henry James to Jane Austen.
— Alan Hollinghurst
Friend and confident of Bruce Chatwin, Jean Rhys, and VS Naipaul, Francis Wyndham has moved in English literature’s most exalted circles. Now his own deliciously precise and funny writings are being republished.
— The Guardian