The Devil is White
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It is 1792 and a group of English gentlemen is recruiting settlers for a new world. Anti-slavers, they foresee the shining vision of a free colony in Africa where all races and classes can live together in harmony.

At first, all seems well. More than a hundred men, women and children sail from London on board the Pharaoh. They are bound for Muranda, an island off the west coast of Africa that seems to be ideal: uninhabited, fertile, well watered. For a leader, they have a merchant, Sir George Whitcroft; a gallant seaman, Captain Coupland, to sail their ship; Dr Owen to treat their ills; the Reverend Tolchard to guide their spiritual lives; and Caspar Jeavons, a young aristocratic poet, to record their exploits.

When they land, Muranda seems a paradise. Fruit hangs from the trees, the waters swarm with fish, the local king is friendly. Some begin to work. Others prefer to laze and swim, to drink and dance at night. But then the tropical rains begin and beat relentlessly down. Fever strikes arbitrarily and cruelly.

William Palmer's latest novel is a remarkable portrayal of men and women and their experiences and emotions, from violence and terror to tenderness and love, in their brave new world.

From D.J.Taylor's review in the Independent (March 1st, 2013)
“...full of sharp twitches on the psychological thread, The Devil is White is at its considerable best in a handful of highly symbolic set-pieces: Caspar seeking out a brothel in Tenerife, and discovering that his purchase has no tongue; an elephant hunt which ends in the slaughter of the prime bull and Tabellun's revenge; Hood, the resourceful carpenter, lost in the forest and spending the night with only the apes for company.

Cramming preparations, voyage, settlement and crisis into a bare 300 pages was never going to be easy... None of this, though, should detract from Palmer's immense talent as a novelist, and my only real complaint about him is that he doesn't write nearly enough.”

“Palmer has demonstrated his admirable skills as a novelist in previous books and The Devil Is White is a poignant study of ideals unravelling in the face of reality.”

THE INDIA HOUSE (Jonathan Cape, 2005)

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Set at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956, this beguiling and blackly comic novel depicts the lives of a crumbling family of die-hard imperialists.

“Mrs Covington, a former grand lady of the Raj, lives in isolation with her granddaughter, Julia, who is being kept in a state of innocence - which, inevitably, is shattered by the encroaching world... there are many pleasures, from the author's keen observation of Fifties mores to his beautifully crafted style. By the end, the mood of gentle regret and a sense of living in a time out of place resembles no writer so much as Chekhov.”
Alex Larman, The Observer
“At its core lies a desperate sense of unease and the terror of great unknowns, together with an odd but seductive brand of whimsy. There is a wonderful scene when scaly old Mrs Covington, having decided to go out in the car with her son, minces downstairs in an ancient driving costume complete with peacock-feathered cloche hat and is momentarily transformed... Ultimately the India House builds on its somewhat dusty foundations to altogether dazzling effect.”
D.J.Taylor, The Spectator

FOUR LAST THINGS (Secker and Warburg, 1997)

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The novella which gives the title to this collection of short fiction is about a man who had thought himself forgotten, his great works neglected, until one night a researcher and a young companion turn up unexpectedly to discuss his work. The mysterious guests release memories and truths he had preferred to forget.

“On the strength of his previous books, it was to be expected that Palmer would produce something exceptional in the realm of the short story. The depth and eloquence of this fine collection, however, might surprise even the most ardent admirers of his novels. He revels in character and language, in the gradual, intricate revelation of plot-lines and themes; and while his protagonists dwell on failure and regret, Palmer, with this volume to his name, should be doing quite the opposite.”
Paul Sussman, Independent on Sunday

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THE PARDON OF SAINT ANNE (Jonathan Cape, 1996)

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Walther Klinger, by a twist of fate, becomes a society photographer for the new Nazi "aristocrats" and, guiltily, is almost relieved when the war begins. Finding himself in Brittany just before the Allied invasion, this novel is about how he attempts to make refuge for himself and his lover.

“Palmer's beautifully crafted novel convincingly unfolds for us a story of inadvertent complicity in acts of unspeakable evil.”
Lisa Jardine, The Times

“ impressive study of the effect of totalitarianism on the average emotional life. At present, William Palmer's reputation languishes in that queer hinterland where the esteem of fellow writers is cancelled out by the indifference of the world at large. It would be a shame if this novel didn't provoke the attention he clearly deserves.”

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THE CONTRACT (Jonathan Cape, 1995)

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The body of a young woman is found on a Long Island beach, apparently raped and then murdered. She is identified as Starr Faithfull, a girl from a good family, but a picture begins to form of someone promiscuous and mentally unstable, who had been abused as a child by her guardian, a prominent politician.

“A beautifully written exploration of a once famous case that has uncomfortable relevance to our own times.”
David Lodge
“A flawless and intelligent study of sex, politics and the abuse of power. It is both subtle and shocking: that is a rare and potent combination.”
Jim Crace
“Palmer's success is in recreating divers milieux and of mimicking the voices of Starr and her mother as they narrate a story which begins in stately Boston and, creditors rampant, descends to rented rooms in the back-end of New Jersey...a haunting work over which one wants simultaneously to hurry and to linger.”
Christopher Hawtree, The Times
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LEPORELLO (Secker and Warburg, 1992)

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A fictional reworking of the story of Don Giovanni, the legendary seducer – seen through the eyes of his servant Leporello.

“The work of a master of his art... Palmer tells the story from Leporello’s birth to Don Giovanni’s death, subtly leading the reader from the picaresque to the philosophical as the Don’s dissipation takes its toll on both his body and soul. Leporello is an extraordinarily skilful novel.”
Piers Paul Read, Catholic Herald
“The aged Leporello... recounts his own history, as if to a listening audience of one who occasionally informs him of Mozart's transformation of the story. But he is not simply his master's voice, and Don Giovanni does not even appear until about a quarter of the way through. Before that, we are treated to Leporello's low-life childhood and adolescence in fine picaresque style. Furthermore, it is only in the novel's long middle section that the Don is himself, the insatiable champion in the lists of love of Leporello's Catalogue Aria, aided and abetted by his ever-faithful servant.
    The later part of the book is again unexpected. The Don evades the theatrical flames of hell, as well as those of a real volcanic eruption, to all but settle for a quiet life and a wife before disaster and physical decay, more ghastly than anything the Commendatore had to offer, finally catch up with him.
     For Palmer, Don Giovanni's world is an uneasy alliance of bestial, superstitious groundlings and enlightenment savants, both of which he describes with impressive panache. By the end, when the Don has returned home to die, we realise that for all his callousness and brutality, we like Leporello have grown to love him. When disease begins to ravage him both in mind and in body, we can hardly fail to wonder whether its assaults may not have some relevance to our own age and its ills.”
David Ekserdjian, The Times
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THE GOOD REPUBLIC (Secker and Warburg, 1990)

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Opening in 1989, the novel spans 50 years and begins by depicting Jacob Balthus's life as a political émigré in a run down part of London. He is invited to return to his home country in the Baltic by the renascent nationalist movement, and looks back on his life before and during the Second World War under both German and Russian occupations. On his return he learns the terrible price of remaining an "innocent" in history.

When The Good Republic was reissued in 2009, Edward Lucas of The Economist picked it as part of his summer reading:

“ Your columnist flirted with some ambitious ideas such as rereading Czeslaw Milosz in Polish, or finishing the Miklos Banffy trilogy about aristocratic life in pre-communist Transylvania. What he actually ended up packing was a newly republished edition of William Palmer’s neglected 1990 classic, The Good Republic... Mr Palmer’s book set a standard for an east European historical novel that has yet to be matched – an especially impressive feat for an outsider... It is a tribute to his novelist’s skills that anyone reading the book has the feeling of complete authenticity in both history and geography. Readers are left longing for a sequel. ”
The Good Republic
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“With the current debate about war crimes, and the alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism in much of the ‘new’ Europe, this is as topical a narrative as one can imagine – which is surely the greatest tribute possible to a historical novel.”
Kevin Loader, Daily Telegraph
“I can’t say that I felt particularly consoled when I closed the book. It is altogether too tragic and honest for such a sop to be convincing… Undoubtedly, though Palmer’s achievement is far more significant for that.’
Robert Potts, Literary Review
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