Book Review: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

book - sweet caressA Guest Post written by James Fenchurch

I will confess that before I picked up Sweet Caress I was already a confirmed William Boyd fan, and this novel only reinforced my view. His hallmark for me is his gift for creating a vivid sense of place and time through rich, detailed and precise language, within the framework of a completely unexpected story.   

The book offers two perspectives on the events in the life of photojournalist Amory Clay, providing both the immediacy of her living through these events, as well as her reflections on them, thirty or more years later. As in his book Restless, Boyd shows his skill in writing as a man through a female protagonist. This work of fiction is brilliantly camouflaged, reading almost as an autobiography, including photographs of the people referred to: I really had to do a double take. This aspect is reinforced by the way in which the main character’s fictional life is set against the landmarks of major historical events, such as the rise of fascism in Europe and the Second World War.

The story follows Amory from her early childhood and schooldays, and sees her deal with a hugely traumatic incident. As she moves into adulthood, she navigates her way through personal relationships which are often entwined with her work and buffeted by major world events. It is the study of a young woman seemingly drifting into a career of photojournalism, but going on to achieve her goals as she harnesses her determination in the face of others’ expectations.

Although I loved reading this book, I found, as with all Boyd’s work, that I had to limit the length of the sessions I spent with it due to the intensity of the writing. Here’s a short extract which shows the immense level of detail, in which Amory describes the headmistress’s office in her school:

“The wallpaper had a cream and coffee-coloured stripe and the room’s paintings were real and modern, stylised landscapes and still lifes painted by Miss Ashe’s brother, Ivo (who had died in the war). Pale blue hessian curtains were allowed to bulk their hems on the floor and the table lamps burned dimly behind mottled parchment shades. Taste was being exhibited here, I realised, confident yet understated.”

I found I needed time to digest such carefully constructed text, but came back soon to devour more. This is a wonderful, moving, thoughtful and beautifully written story which I wholeheartedly recommend.

This was a Guest Post written by James Fenchurch

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