This was the first novel Sebastian Faulks published.
Set at the time of writing, it tells the story of George Grillet, a young Frenchman who works in the wine business and has come to London on compassionate leave. He is persuaded to run what he believes is an innocent errand, which involves stealing a cassette tape from a warehouse in the then-undeveloped Isle of Dogs in east London. The novel has many evocations of run-down areas of the city.
It is unclear how much George understands the extent to which he is being used by political extremists. His surname, meanwhile, appears to be a reference to the French nouveau roman novelist, Alain Robbe-Grillet and he is much influenced by his reading of The Outsider by Camus. He also reads pulp fiction to distract himself from the pain of his recent past, which involves a broken love affair in France. The first draft of the novel, which was edited by James Michie at the Bodley Head, contained extracts from the thrillers George reads, though these were dropped from the final version.
While George’s story becomes increasingly nightmarish, an unnamed narrator gives a sinister commentary on events. This person has the final words in the book, which imply that a child is about to be snatched from the street.
Although A Trick of the Light was well received at the time, Faulks has since declined to have it published in paperback. ‘There are maybe some nice things in it,’ he said. ‘The action scenes and some of the descriptions of London. But it’s so far from what I went on to write that I think it was a distraction, a kind of throat-clearing. It was an attempt to write something that could get into print after three or four rather “experimental” things in my twenties which ended up in a drawer.’
‘A most impressive first novel.’
‘An entertaining and always shiftily gripping tale of menace.’
• The print run of A Trick of the Light was only 1500, some of which were later pulped. A single signed copy can now fetch as much as £1,000.
• One of the characters, Wyn Douglas, a radical journalist, reappeared in Faulks’s 2006 novel Engleby.
• The book is dedicated to Hugues and Caroline d’Achon. She is a lifelong English friend of the author’s; he is a French architect, painter and novelist. They live near Nantes on the west coast of France.