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Francis King, who died on Sunday July 3 aged 88, was among the leading English novelists of our time. “In a career that extended into its seventh decade,” DJ Taylor asserted in an obituary notice for the Independent, ‘[King] wrote at least half a dozen novels that deserve a place in the late 20th-century canon.’ Finds is proud to be the publisher of no fewer than eight of King’s unfailingly excellent novels (including A Domestic Animal, which was longlisted for the retrospective 1970 Booker Prize.)
A Domestic Animal, for all its accomplishment, was a work that caused King no small measure of pain both through its inspiration and its reception, as he discussed feelingly in a contribution to the Finds website. He did not make things easy for himself; and Ion Trewin’s obituary for the Guardian reflects interestingly on why King’s achievements are perhaps not as widely known as they ought to be:
‘If, commercially, [King] failed to reach the top rung of the fiction ladder he blamed himself. “I have never wished to be identified with only one type of fiction,” he wrote in 1976. “Perhaps this has harmed me in popular esteem; the public tends to like its novelists to write the same novel over and over again.” One further explanation for his lack of commercial popularity was what King himself recognised as his “profound, if resigned, pessimism about the world”. Others identified melancholy in his work.’
King was for 25 years one of the Sunday Telegraph‘s principal book reviewers, and for 10 years its theatre critic. The Telegraph‘s obituary proposes that King was committed to giving his readers a less comfortable literary experience than the more run-of-the-mill entertainer:
‘[King’s] 28 novels show a recurring fascination with the louche and the bizarre, which he would sometimes introduce casually, but with shocking effect, in the course of an otherwise urbanely careful narrative.’
One testament to the high regard in which King was held by his friends is evinced by how many of them have made small but significant contributions to these obituaries. Jonathan Fryer adds a supplement to the Guardian obituary (and also composed an In Memoriam at his own blog.) Maureen Duffy also made an addition to the Guardian obit in respect of King’s role in lobbying for a Public Lending Right for British authors. And Julian Machin contributed a postscript to the Independent notice, relating King’s enthusiasm for E.M. Forster, and noting his posthumous awarding of the Royal Society of Literature’s Benson Medal.
On the Finds list alongside A Domestic Animal you will also find the following works by Francis King:
The Widow (1957)
The Custom House (1961)
Act of Darkness (1983)
Voices in an Empty Room (1984)
The Woman Who Was God (1988)
Punishments (1989)
The One and Only (1994)
Here at Finds we join in the sadness at Francis King’s passing, and we commend these and indeed all of his novels to any discerning reader in search of the best in fiction.

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