Boomerang Book Bites: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

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.
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Review: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

9781408867983The 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.

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All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here

9780224097482Review – Solo by William Boyd

I have never read an Ian Fleming James Bond novel. I am a fan of the films but never felt the need to read the original books. I did read Sebastian Faulks’s James Bond novel Devil May Care but only because it was Sebastian Faulks and I employed the same reasoning with William Boyd’s James Bond novel.

I am a huge William Boyd fan and he is perfectly suited to write a classic Bond novel. Set in the late 60s this is James Bond minus the gadgets. Boyd has set his Bond firmly in Fleming’s universe using an obituary of James Bond from You Only Live Twice as his template. But he has also brought his own skill and knowledge to bare on this classic character.

William Boyd is not unfamiliar with Ian Fleming using his as a background character in Any Human Heart. He is also no stranger to the nuances and minutiae of the spy genre. Boyd is also very familiar with Africa and brings all that to bare with his James Bond story. His Bond is also a little older than we are used to and is very much in the Sean Connery mold (although Boyd has said he’d like Daniel Day-Lewis to play his Bond).

All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here; the bravado, the suaveness, the women and the villains. Boyd has fun playing within and outside the conventions we all know so well while also bring a freshness to the story and the characters. If you’re an Ian Fleming Bond fan I imagine you are in for a treat. If you’re a William Boyd fan don’t turn your nose up at a Bond novel, you will love this too.

PS
An added bonus is the audio of Solo is read by Dominic West aka McNulty from The Wire. William Boyd + James Bond + Dominic West = Perfect!

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Buy the audio book here…

Review: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

TITLE: Waiting for Sunrise
AUTHOR: William Boyd
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury (March 2012)
ISBN: 9781408818589   353 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected])

The Year is 1913, the setting Vienna. Lysander Ulrich Rief is a 28 year-old English actor. He is “a young, almost handsome man” and “almost a dandy” and he writes poetry. His surname, he says, is Old English for ‘thorough’ , and in Anglo Saxon it means’wolf’. But he is hardly a thorough wolf, maybe because he has a distressing problem for which a friend has advised him to seek psychiatric help in Vienna where, under the influence of Freud, psychoanalysis has become popular.

Dr Bensimon, is an English psychologist and a follower of Freud. He diagnoses Lysander’s problem as anorgasmia and, naturally, a psychological trauma in Lysander’s childhood is duly uncovered.

Meanwhile, Lysander has met Hettie Bull, a sexually predatory, Coca addicted, English sculptor who is living in Vienna with her common law husband, artist Udo Hoff. Hettie, in the time-honoured way, cures Lysander of his problem; but later, when she discovers that she is pregnant, she accuses him of rape and he is arrested.

So the scene is set for Alwyn Munro and Jack Fyfe-Miller, attachés at the British Embassy, to intervene and, subsequently, to facilitate Lysander’s daring escape over the Austro-Hungarian border and back to London.

Part two of the book is set in London in 1914. We meet Lysander’s glamorous Austrian mother; his elderly and frail step-father, Lord Crickmay Faulkner; his step-brother, Harley Street dentist, the Hon. Hugo Faulkner; and his uncle, Major Hamo Rief V.C., who makes exploratory expeditions to Africa and who has brought back with him the “very sweet boy” who had been his African guide. Each of these characters play a role in Lysander’s eventual career as a British spy after he is recruited by Munro and Fyfe-Miller in lieu of payment for the legal fees and accommodation incurred in their rescue of him from Vienna.

But I jump ahead. First, war is declared between England and Germany and Lysander decides to “do his bit” for England and enlists in the army. Then Munro and Fyfe-Miller turn up again and the skullduggery begins. Lysander is sent to the front line with a couple of grenades in his pack. He must make an excursion into no man’s land, toss the grenades and go ‘missing-in-action’ . He must crawl through a pre-arranged gap in the French defences and join the French army and, there, Fyfe-Miller will meet him and organize his transformation in to Abelard Schwimmer, a German-speaking Swiss railway engineer who has been in a sanatorium in Belgium and is now on his way home to Switzerland. Once in Geneva, Lysander/Abelard must meet the British agent, code-named ‘Bonfire’, who will lead him to a German Consular official who has been receiving coded messages from a British mole. He must then, using his “ingenuity” or a bribe, obtain the password which will allow the British to decrypt the messages and catch the mole.

In the last part of the book the action becomes faster and the plot more involved. Discovering the identity of the mole becomes the main theme, no-one can be trusted, and the story ends with an unexpected twist.

It is all quite entertaining, but I had a number of problems with this book. Perhaps most importantly, I did not warm to Lysander, who seemed to me to be a bit of a prat. I also found it hard to believe that the fledgling British intelligence service was quite as amateur in 1914 as this book suggests. And there were elements of the plot which I found completely unbelievable. At one point, for example, Lysander is shot three times at point-blank range, in a confined space, and he survives. Many of the characters, too, are little more than caricatures.

Reviewers in the British media have been enthusiastic about this book. Le Carré’s name is mentioned on an advertising flyer, but it is nothing like a Le Carré book. James Bond in 1914? Perhaps. The basis of a  forthcoming popular film? Very likely: It has all the necessary ingredients – Lords and Ladies, an Elizabethan Manor House, exotic settings, arty types, drugs, hot sex, hints of homosexuality and perversion, trench warfare, espionage, goodies and baddies – How could it possibly fail?