97. Cold Snap, Francis King (2009)

It’s typical of a career as long and wayward as Francis King’s that he saved his best novel till last. After a lifetime of writing – dozens of novels, short story collections and mountains of journalism – Francis was 86 when Cold Snap was published. He died last year, which would be sad but for the fact that he ended on such a high note. Set in the harsh winter of 1946, Cold Snap is a fresh and surprising story about German PoWs interned in Oxford, and their bittersweet relations with the locals as they await repatriation. There are two contrasting love stories in the course of the book, and while they’re beautifully handled it’s the evocation of a lost world that really appeals to me: the bedsits and gas fires and chilblains of the post-War era, of which I’m inordinately fond. I lent this book to my mother, who lived near Oxford in the 40s and remembers that winter well, and she confirmed that it’s note-perfect. King’s description of physical passion mixed with compassion and pity is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

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