Mary Renault's powerful and tender first novel was written in the thirties and was, in many ways, far ahead of its time.
Vivian, a student nurse, chose her profession as a challenge, both to her spirit and to her permanently exhausted body; Mic immerses himself in his work at the hospital to ward off the emotional wounds of an unhappy childhood. Through Jan, Viv's beloved older brother, they meet, and their friendship turns into a secret romance. Secret because, if discovered, it would cost them their jobs.
Despite the discipline and rigid hierarchy imposed by the hospital, their passion takes root, but between them hangs the tantalising and enigmatic shadow of Jan.
Mary Renault (1905-1983) was born in London and educated at St Hughs, Oxford. She trained as a nurse at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary, where she met her lifelong partner, Julie Mullard. Her first novel, Purposes of Love, was published in 1937. In 1948, after North Face won a MGM prize worth $150,000, she and Mullard emigrated to South Africa. There, Renault was able to write forthrightly about homosexual relationships for the first time - in her masterpiece, The Charioteer (1953), and then in her first historical novel, The Last of the Wine (1956). Renault's vivid novels set in the ancient world brought her worldwide fame. In 2010 Fire From Heaven was shortlisted for the Lost Booker of 1970.