Stock, Francine 1958-
STOCK, Francine 1958-
Born 1958; married Robert Lance Hughes; children: Rebecca, Eleanor. Education: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A. (modern languages).
Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Chatto and Windus/Viking Penguin UK, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England.
Broadcaster and writer. Petroleum Economist, staff writer; BBC, London, England, producer, reporter, and presenter, 1983—.
A Foreign Country, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1999.
Man-made Fibre, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2002.
A veteran producer and reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Francine Stock did not realize her ambition to write a novel until she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer just five months after the birth of her second daughter. Her hospitalization and treatment forced her to decide what was really important to her—and it gave her time away from her broadcasting responsibilities to complete the novel she had always wanted to write. Abandoning the nonfiction book she had been working on for several months, she instead focused on her first novel, A Foreign Country.
The book interweaves the stories of seventy-four-year-old Daphne and her two adult sons, one of whom is working on a documentary about troubles in a former Soviet republic. As a young woman during World War II, Daphne had worked for a government department responsible for interning Italian civilians in Britain. Daphne determined who among this group might pose security risks, and the unforeseen consequences of her decisions still trouble her. Ophelia Field in the Times Literary Supplement appreciated Stock's handling of this subject matter, pointing out that "the novel is not …a simple study of xenophobic alarmism" but a thoughtful exploration of the moral ambiguities created by war. These complexities, Field observed, have parallels in the television culture where Daphne's son works, where careers are made on the exploitation of human suffering.
Field hailed A Foreign Country as a "novel of rare moral intelligence" that "is, above all, a study of how far we can know other people, even those closest to us." Stock told Guardian interviewer Stephen Moss: "I don't think it's a brilliant book. But I think it's an interesting one. I surprised myself while I was writing it because I realized this was what I really liked doing." Stock added that she enjoys the ambiguity that fiction creates. "I don't like the way in journalism that you have to decide what you think about something immediately," she explained. "There are some things that just can't be expressed in terms of a string of abstract nouns, and there are some things that can only be expressed by describing the way someone moves their hands."
Stock's second novel is a satirical look at the newly suburbanizing culture of the 1950s. Its title, Manmade Fibre, refers to the perfect substance that industrial chemist Alan hopes to create at his new lab in America. Meanwhile, back in England, his wife Patsy is left with their three children and her own loneliness. As Alan entertains bizarre dreams of modern technological utopias, including robot workers, underwater hotels, and jet-powered taxis, Patsy is tempted into the arms of another man and becomes increasingly distressed by the course her life is taking. Eventually, she joins Alan in the States, but Alan has discovered that his miracle fiber retains an unpleasant human odor that he can't eliminate. New Statesman contributor Katie Owen concluded that "in the end, one wonders what the point is of venturing on to such well-trodden ground," but she enjoyed the novel's ironies and its light touch, and found the center of the book to be "quite compelling reading."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian, March 8, 1999, Stephen Moss, "Francine Stock: Break in Transmission."
Independent, April 7, 1997, Ann Treneman, "Alive and Presenting," pp. M4-M5.
New Statesman, August 12, 2002, Katie Owen, review of Man-made Fibre, p. 39.
Observer (London, England), April 16, 2000, Claudia Pugh-Thomas, review of A Foreign Country, p. 14.
Times Literary Supplement, March 19, 1999, Ophelia Field, review of A Foreign Country, p. 23; July 26, 2002, Alex Clark, review of Man-made Fibre, p. 21.
BBC Web site,http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (April 9, 2003), "Francine Stock."*