William Boyd secured my admiration with Any Human Heart, and this novel only ratchets that higher. In a deceptively low-key manner, it tells nothing less than the full story of a human life, packed with incident and accident, the monumental and the mundane. Zelig-like, Amory Clay’s story intersects with many events of the twentieth century, so this is also an historical fiction – and at times a bit of a thriller – but mostly it is a wise and thoughtful examination of a (fictional) life well-lived.
Impressively, Boyd upped the ante on himself this time by taking on a female protagonist with, at least to this reader, great success. While Amory is not a ‘typical’ stereotyped woman of her era, she feels real and true to her gender, especially in his scenes of romance, sex and simple lustful arousal. One wonders at the research or consultation he may have employed to get there.
The novel employs another conceit as well: Clay is a lifelong photographer, and throughout the text Boyd has sprinkled in what are purported to be her photos, dated from 1928 to 1968. Internet research reveals they are found-photos, mostly fitted to the narrative but a little bit the other way round as well. In any case, they add another dimension and credibility, without feeling gimmicky. (Unlike some novels told all in correspondence, or with wild typographical explorations running up and down and sideways across nearly-blank pages).
A real inspiration, and a challenge to other authors to do anywhere near as well.