London in the swinging sixties. Having been a failed actor, Nat Fane is a playwright/screenwriter in his late 30s who is struggling to replicate his initial great successes. He is commissioned to write a screenplay for a film for an avant-garde German director, Reiner Werther Kloss, based on the Henry James short story The Figure in the Carpet. This story concerns a successful author who says there is a central, unified message in his oeuvre which no-one hitherto, certainly no critic, has been able to decode. Fane is rather an egotistic but charismatic bon viveur with an odd taste for sado-masochistic sex. Billie Cantrip is a young actress, somewhat unhappily attached to her stifling and failed artistic partner, Jeff. Fane had a minor part in Quinn’s previous novel Freya, and the eponymous journalist Freya Wyley plays a sizeable role in the story. The core of the story relates to the making of the film, and the roles of the main characters, with Nat Fane as the central screenplay figure.
Interposed in the narrative is Nat Fane’s screenplay for The Figure in the Carpet. Although this may seem more of an indulgence by Quinn than an essential element of the plot, it is absorbing and enjoyable accompaniment to the narrative as the film of the short story is made.
Quinn captures the feel, the milieu, the sensations of London in late 1960s spring and summer-time to perfection. There is a wistful nostalgic feeling to the narrative that makes one regret the irretrievable passing of such golden days, and for London which has changed so much since then.