Discovering a new author is like that moment of realising that someone who you thought was just an acquaintance might actually become a huge part of your life: you’ve got more in common than you previously thought. You rebuke yourself with the obvious question: “Why didn’t I see it before?”
The reason I’m not too keen on these eureka moments is because I’m stubborn and judgemental. The really annoying thing is that I’m often wrong. And if proved so, I’ll (grudgingly) admit it. So, in the spirit of ‘blogging honesty’, here’s my admission: I was wrong about William Boyd.
Boyd has been around the proverbial literary block for many years. I’ve always casually ignored him. No real reason; just didn’t think that our narratives would mesh. Maybe it’s the way his name looks in capitals: WILLIAM BOYD. It’s very square.
Naturally, I always start reading all new authors reluctantly, mentally requiring them to prove their worth to me. Sleep-inducing epilogue? I’ll skip it. Overworked opening scene? No thanks. All the characters need to work bloody hard to make an impression on me. I need to be able to say, “Yes, that’s it, exactly” or else I’ll skip out whole chunks of prose and dialogue, occasionally leapfrogging to the last chapter to see if things have picked up.
That’s the great thing about books (even dull ones, of which I’ve discovered there are many): you’re always reading in the present tense. Even if you’ve already read a book, it’s still happening. You can pick it up where you like. You can create your own narrative. Boyd does this exactly; he creates situations that take you along for the ride, steering you exactly where he wants, right now. Better still, you want to go where the narrative takes you. And oh boy, what a ride.
In particular, Any Human Heart, Armadillo and Brazaville Beach are extraordinary examples of books that literally give you everything you want. And I want a lot from a story (conflict, resolution, love, sex, murder, religion, philosophy), its characters (young, old, rude, lonely, ambitious, pathetic, insular, psychotic), and how this is translated by my humble reader’s brain (insert magic formula here).
When I picked up Brazaville Beach, I was convinced I didn’t care about an Englishwoman in Africa ruminating about her life. This is why you should never judge a book by its back cover. Throw in some chimpanzee infanticide, UNAMO kidnapping and a manic depressive marriage, and you’ve got yourself a corker of a story.
I’m currently giving Ordinary Thunderstorms a pop (nothing better than to read about being in London while actually being in London) and am once again amazed at the ease Boyd launches you into his vehicle, straps you in, and leads you to all these absurdly wonderful situations that perfectly complement your mind’s own narrative. It’s pure indulgent sticky escapism and I unashamedly love it.
More to come on Boyd…watch this space for my review on completion. Next on my reading list? The Destiny of Nathalie ‘X’, naturally.