Friday, August 30, 2019

'Sweet Caress' by William Boyd

30 August 2019

I’ve been reading ‘Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd – a novel published in 2015 which weaves a 20th century family saga around a collection of old black and white photographs. Subtitled ‘The Many Lives of Amory Clay’ it tells the story of a woman born in 1908 whose personal and professional life bears witness to some of the most significant world events of the century. This reminded me of Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ (reviewed here in June 2013) whose protagonist, Ursula Todd, is born in 1910. But ‘Sweet Caress’ is a much less tricksy novel: it’s a fairly conventional saga, partly told in hindsight by the older Amory Clay in 1977. William Boyd seems to have used a set of (apparently) unconnected photos as the inspiration for his story, making Amory Clay a professional photographer and constructing her history to explain how she came to be in each of the places and events depicted by the photos. The result is an enjoyable novel which lacks the literary ambition of ‘Life After Life’ but demonstrates William Boyd’s skills in engaging the reader: again and again when I was planning just to read to the end of a chapter I found myself unable to stop because I desperately wanted to know what happened next. Describing a book as a ‘page-turner’ can feel like damning with faint praise but ‘Sweet Caress’ is an entertaining read.



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