Sunday, June 20, 2010

William Boyd's "Armadillo": Book Review

Never thought I'd be interested in insurance, but my wife likes Boyd and urged this on me. He has a knack for getting you intrigued by what intrigues him-- such as the obsession for armor here-- and as with "The Blue Afternoon" about Hollywood, or "Brazzaville Beach" about Africa, I found this novel another reliable entertainment from Boyd.

It reminded me of Martin Amis' take on his city; see my review of "London Fields." Streets are named carefully by Lorimer, fashions noted meticulously, tics revealing one's status in a very class-conscious and place-obsessed megapolis. What stayed surprisingly subtle were the Transnistrian Gypsy backgrounds of Lorimer's family; another author might well have drawn upon this far more, but as with the obsessions of Lorimer himself, many of them appear oddly less amplified than I'd expected.

This tone, then, makes for an off-kilter story. It's from Lorimer's p-o-v, so that enhances his deadpan recital of such awful satirical types as Torquil, one of the most splendid louche layabouts I've ever met-- luckily not in reality. Yet, so much of the backstory of Lorimer-- as with the Scottish scenes that gradually are amplified to a climactic explanation of L's earlier re-invention of himself-- don't gain on the page the same weight that Boyd intends for them. I liked the novel, but a lot of the action and characterization stayed shadowy, all the way to the end.

As with the whole "lucid dreams" sub-plot, there's less payoff than I'd have liked. Flavia's an intriguing character, but too much of her mystery remains. Boyd is realistic in introducing types we know less about than we'd like at first, but then he withholds information later on that keeps us at a distance. He seems not to want to reveal all the mysteries, and while some may like this teasing, oblique approach, I found it perplexing by the story's conclusion. (Posted to Amazon US 6-12-10. I liked this European cover better.)

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