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A new Boyd book, I was so excited. Ever since I read Armadillo I have loved William Boyd, although as with most authors, I have found some of his books disappointing. I didn’t particularly enjoy Restless or his James Bond outing Solo. Brazzaville Beach is probably my favourite, followed closely by Armadillo, and I loved Any Human Heart.
Sweet Caress could almost be seen as a female version of Any Human Heart, the biography of a woman from her earliest memory to almost the day of her death. This is what Boyd does really well, the sweeping biography. As in Any Human Heart the story is told in sections, looking back over a long life. The reader becomes aware of the way we all seem to become different people at different takes of our lives, depending on whether we’re a child, a young lover, a spouse or a parent. As in Any Human Heart, Boyd intersperses real life events and real people into his fictional character and story, giving it a vivid reality. In this book, however, he also uses the interesting innovation of using real photographs in a fictional story. Very clever.
Despite all this, the book is strangely un-involving. It shouldn’t be. Boyd has been careful to give his protagonist faults as well as virtues so the reader should have sympathy, empathy even. Boyd is usually adept at writing as a woman. His main protagonist in Brazzaville Beach is female and I can hear her voice perfectly in my head. Yet I can’t feel the protagonist here. Amory Clay remains a one-dimensional cardboard character. Maybe it’s partly because she has no character or conscience. In this she is more like a man. I can’t help feeling that any woman with two lovers would feel some twinge of guilt but Amory doesn’t. Whatever the reason as I followed her through thick and thin I found I couldn’t felt no real shred of interest or concern for her.
The book is clever, incredibly well-researched, well-written, but it just doesn’t hang together well. It’s almost as though it’s a collection of short stories strung together by an overall theme.
Other reviews I have read disagree: some see this book on an equal level to Any Human Heart; they see Amory Clay as a well-drawn character but I just cannot agree.
Bethany Askew is the author of seven novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days, Poppy’s Seed, Three Extraordinary Years and The Two Saras.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Two more women’s fiction books have been accepted for publication in 2020 and 2021 respectively and she is currently working on a new novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.