The new William Boyd is simply sublime. Sweet Caress tells the story of photographer Amory Clay and her tumultuous life over the course of a tumultuous century. Interspersed with photos from key periods in Amory Clay’s life Boyd will have you almost convinced that his novel’s protagonist and narrator is real and existed.
Amory Clay is born in 1908. Her childhood is defined by her father; his absences during the First World War and his return as a changed man. Amory is drawn to her Uncle Greville, a society photographer, and her passion for photography is born. This passion takes her to the seamy streets of 1920s Berlin, the blackshirt marches of London in the 1930s and to the battlefields of Western Europe and Vietnam. It takes her around the globe and back again as Amory follows her passion and desire in pursuit of life and all its experiences. Experiences she longs to capture.
Although this novel follows a character over the course of a century, something William Boyd has done so well before, this novel is also something very different from William Boyd. The way he captures his narrator; her voice, her thoughts as a young girl through to an older woman is captivating. The use of photographs amongst the text is at first disconcerting and feels like Boyd is taking an unnecessary shortcut. But as the story progresses and as you get to know Amory more you crave each new photo and study the nuisances of each picture. Boyd apparently collected the photos from junk shops and estate sales and they fit perfectly within the context of the novel whenever they appear. And will have you believing in a character unlike any other novel before.
William Boyd is a master storyteller and takes this gift to new and different heights with the character of Amory Clay. Sweet Caress is a wonderful novel you won’t want to say goodbye to.