Sweet Caress by William Boyd

There is something very satisfying about returning to a WIlliam Boyd book. I feel that I always know there will be a good story with clearly drawn human characters, some who are likeable, others less so. The plot of the book will have direction and like a lazy river, you’ll be carried along with its current effortlessly, in the knowledge that you are being safely transported to your destination. That’s not to say that reading a Boyd novel is boring – far from it. Very rarely have I read a book by him that has failed to stimulate and maintain my full attention from start to finish. It has no weak spots where you feel like the narrative is floundering or the prose is “purple” for the sake of it. His books are tight and reveal themselves with well-controlled pace and knowledge.

Sweet Caress is a fictional autobiography written by Amory Clay, a female photographer, who lives a wide and varied life from the start of the twentieth century through to the early 80’s. A very diverse patch of history if ever there was one. Amory is a lively narrator but reliable; she is capable and confident and it is difficult not to admire her. She retells her life experiences with honesty and takes us into the heart of a variety of different situations including relationships, wars, scandal and family conflict. I liked her very much and enjoyed her company enormously in the short time we spent together.

And that is the other thing about William Boyd’s books: I relish them but as with all things deliciously tempting, it is very difficult to eke the experience out despite one’s best efforts; it becomes finished with ease and a smug sense of satisfaction alongside a modicum of remorse.

An extra element that makes this one stand out is the inclusion of photos, the staple of all good autobiographies: a visual record to accompany the written. However, these photos bear no relation to the text. The photos are real, yes, but have been used by Boyd to augment his fiction and as such, are of no relevance to the people and particular events that they purport to support. They are from lost pasts, amalgamated by Boyd and chosen at particular points to highlight specific fictional aspects of Boyd’s fictional text. And they work magnificently, a lustrous lacquer on an expertly written novel.

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