Francis Wyndham was born in London in 1924. He graduated from Eton in 1940 and spent a year at Oxford before being drafted into the army in 1942. When it became clear that he was suffering from tuberculosis, he was dismissed from service and returned to London, where he began writing reviews for The Times Literary Supplement and working on the short stories that would later be collected in Out of the War (not published until 1974). During the 1950s he worked as a critic and editor at Queen and in 1964 was hired by The Sunday Times, where he stayed until 1980. He collaborated with David King on Trotsky: A Documentary and is the author of a collection of essays, The Theatre of Embarrassment; a novel, The Other Garden (winner of the 1987 Whitbread First Novel Award); and co-editor of The Letters of Jean Rhys.
Alan Hollinghurst was born in 1954 in Gloucestershire, England, and attended Magdalen College, Oxford. He is the author of the novels The Swimming-Pool Library, The Folding Star (short-listed for the Booker Prize), The Spell, The Line of Beauty (winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize), as well as of a translation of the play Bajazet by Racine. A former staff member at The Times Literary Supplement, Hollinghurst is a frequent contributor to that and other publications, including The Guardian. He lives in London.
In his more than eighty years, Francis Wyndham has published very little–one novella and two collections of stories–but it adds up to one of the most individual and compelling bodies of work by a contemporary English writer. As Alan Hollinghurst notes in his introduction to The Complete Fiction
, 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, when Wyndham had been invalided out of the British army. Mrs. Henderson
, by contrast, offers scrupulously observed tragicomic pictures of the vagaries of upper-class English family life. Finally, in the prizewinning 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.