Sweet Caress by William Boyd
I had been waiting for this book for a while. I enjoyed Any Human Heart and actually read Restless twice. I found the second book fascinating, even if the ending was not so convincing. I found the opening of Waiting for Sunrise slow, but I had read something of Sweet Caress and thought that it may be a return to form.
The full title of the novel is Sweet Caress -The Many Lives of Amory Clay. It is a reference to a fictional quote: “However long your stay on this small planet lasts , and whatever happens during it, the most important thing is that -from time to time – you feel life’s sweet caress.”
I really enjoyed this book! It helps that it is narrated as an autobiography by Amory Clay, a woman who has survived. She has a traumatic childhood, ended by a dramatic event. She picks up the skills, contacts and impetus to become a photographer and begins travelling to exciting places. She finds herself in 1930s Berlin, and takes photos of the seedy side of life. She goes on to see America, war and peace. It is a life of extremes, danger and events which change her life in unpredictable ways. Her love life is not straightforward, becoming complicated by war and peace.Her family survive and make calls upon her, but do not limit her progress. She gets some lucky breaks, but also has some challenging circumstances to endure. So, overall a believable life.
The style of writing is so realistic that I kept wondering whether Amory was in fact a real person, albeit someone always on the spot during great events and circumstances. It seems to me that Boyd has imagined and researched his way into the female perspective well, against a background of the twentieth century not dissimilar to the time period covered by Any Human Heart. No event is skimmed over, and there are repercussions which Amory considers and acts upon, without minimizing their effect. This is partly achieved by the device of a looking back from the vantage point of the 1970s, and the isolation of a Scottish island. It means that we know that Amory has survived, but at what cost only emerges gradually. It is very good on family relationships, whether sibling, parental or romantic. It explores the positives and negatives, the impact of decisions made and trauma which lasts. Another convincing element is the inclusion of photographs, mainly (supposedly) taken by Amory. They are not always the most dramatic possible, but reflects what survives from a full life.
So, this is an enjoyable and well written book. I think that it does represent a return to form for Boyd, and I am intrigued as to why he decided to write from a woman’s perspective. I am glad he did.