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London, 21 April 1976

Mr William Sansom: Author with loving eye for the London urban scene


William Sansom, the novelist and short story writer, who has died aged 64, was a master of
atmosphere and suspense. He had the gift of implying an underlying malaise in his characters
beneath seeming normality.

He was also an accomplished travel writer and at the time of his death was just beginning his

He was born at Dulwich in 1912 and educated at Uppingham. His first short stories collected as
“Fireman Flower” were published in 1944 and were immediately remarked for their individuality and

From the first, the muscularity of his style was admired. Few authors of his generation had such an
impressive command of language. His novel “The Face of Innocence” (1951) won high praise for its
skilful use of dialogue and unfailing eye for subtle social distinctions.

His short stories in “A Touch of the Sun” (1952) were compared with Kipling. “Among the Dahlias”
(1957) demonstrated his perceptiveness in a series of bizarre situations.


Among his travel books “The Icicle and the Sun” (1958), a skate around Scandinavia, won high praise.
His novel “The Last Hours of Sandra Lee” (1961) set in an office party at Christmas, plunge the reader
into depths of feeling below the glittering surface.

In the powerful “Goodbye” (1966) he depicted a disintegrating relationship. His other novels
included “A Bed of Roses” (1954) and a “A Young Wife’s Tale” (1974).

But it was of the less fashionable short story that he was an outstanding master. Several of his
stories were published in The Daily Telegraph colour magazine.


Delicate touch


William Sansom was one of the most original prose writers of his generation, in fact I cannot think of
anyone like him.

He had wit, imagination, and as a stylist he could bring off the most unusual and ingeniously
calculated effects; never precious, never laborious, never cliché, always using words as if he loved
them, and was turning them delicately in his hand as if they were alive.

He began his career at the beginning of the last war, when he had become an auxiliary fireman, and I
can remember my excitement when I read the first stories he sent into New Writing.

It was as if Edgar Allen Poe had been reborn, but a Poe with lighter, less portentous touch, though
capable of just as formidable, evocations of the strange, the wonderful, the nightmarish; a Poe, I
thought, who had read Kafka – but with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour such as Kafka could
rarely display.

He had two extraordinary gifts that I particularly admired. He could endow inanimate objects, a coil
of rope, perhaps, with a vivid menacing significance, and he could look at the minutest living things,
an insect, say, or a leaf, as if he were a visitor from another planet gazing at them for the first time
with wondering microscopic eyes.

Later, when he began to write novels, I was struck by his rare talents for comic situations and his
suitable psychological insight. He loved travel, and there is not one his many travel books which does
not reveal his unique delight in the places he visited and the people he met.

In them, too, he opened our eyes to the marvelousness of the everyday.


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