William Boyd

William Boyd, author of A Good Man in Africa and An Ice-Cream War, is working on a new novel, Stars and Bars. His play about public school life, Good and Bad at Games, will be shown later this year on Channel 4.

Painting the map red

William Boyd, 5 September 1985

The story of the South African gold and diamond fields and of the men who rose to wealth and notoriety as a result of their exploitation has stimulated writers since the 1870s, when diamonds were first discovered. And yet amongst the millions of words there are curious lacunae, particularly in the area of biography. The key figures are Cecil Rhodes, Barney Barnato, Alfred Beit, J.B. Robinson, Solly Joel and Julius Wernher. None has a definitive biography, and on someone such as Beit there is an almost complete silence. This is even more true of the minor figures, such as Rhodes’s henchman Rutherfoord Harris, his partner Charles Rudd, or even Leander Starr Jameson. Paradoxically, there exists a first-rate scholarly account of Rhodes’s involvement with the annexation of Bechuanaland – yet no similar treatment of his life. Even the most recent biography (by J. Flint, 1976) is inadequate on certain areas of his life. If one wants to learn about Neville Pickering, his first private secretary and the great love of his life (Rhodes, in his second will, left his estate to Pickering), one must turn to Brian Roberts’s Cecil Rhodes and the Princess, where, for the first and only time, Pickering’s early life and background are accurately delineated. Other murky areas – Rhodes’s dealings with Lobengula and the Matabele, the formation of the British South Africa Company, the widespread concession racketeering – still await their chroniclers.’

Strange Love

William Boyd, 1 December 1983

In an African country, an Englishman – a senior consultant engineer for an oil company – checks into the best hotel in the capital city. The next morning, eating his breakfast by candlelight (the electricity has failed), he is disturbed by a steady drip of water onto the table in front of him. An inquiry soon establishes that this is an overflow from malfunctioning lavatories on the floor above – quite a regular occurrence. At his request, the oil company moves him to the city’s second-best hotel, but this, he discovers, is full of prostitutes plying their trade among the businessmen and foreign officials who stay there. The Englishman finds the relentless soliciting uncongenial and wearing, and asks his employers to put him up in a house. This they duly do: he shares a pleasant house in a suburb with a colleague; the oil company lays on a car and driver to transport them the few miles to the city-centre office each day.–

Memories of the Sausage Fly

William Boyd, 7 July 1983

The ant-lion builds its traps in sandy soil. It fashions – somehow – a geometrically perfect inverted cone. At the tip of the cone the ant-lion lurks, buried and invisible, waiting for any small insect to tumble in. When this occurs, the ant-lion at first makes no move. The walls of the cone are so smooth, the sand-grains they are composed of so fine, that only the largest insects can gain any purchase. As the smaller victims slither and scrabble on the steep sides of the cone, the ant-lion spits – or flicks – more sand at them, causing them to tumble down into the cone-tip where they are dragged beneath the sand and devoured.

Semi-colons are for the weak: Bond Redux

Colin Burrow, 19 December 2013

‘Morning dearie’. Bond heaved himself awake. A set of teeth was grinning at him from the glass next to his bed. He was in an Innov8 2000 Profiling Hospital Bed with full electronic...

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A Very Modern Man: William Boyd

Edmund Gordon, 8 March 2012

Lysander Rief, the hero of Waiting for Sunrise, arrives in Vienna in 1913 to undergo psychoanalysis, and stays there for a few months; after his final session he goes to a café, where he...

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A Bit of a Lush: William Boyd

Christopher Tayler, 23 May 2002

John Clearwater, the tormented mathematician in William Boyd’s novel Brazzaville Beach, wants to reduce chaos, flux and turbulence to an elegant set of equations. He’s also an...

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Onomastics: William Boyd

Alex Ivanovitch, 4 June 1998

‘Names are important,’ someone says in Armadillo, William Boyd’s seventh novel. The line crops up a few times elsewhere in Boyd’s books, as do characters who show some...

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Not Telling

Ronan Bennett, 23 September 1993

Love story and murder mystery, The Blue Afternoon is full of puzzles. First: why ‘blue’ afternoon? It’s not just the afternoon, there are so many spots of blue throughout the...

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Mockmen

Stephen Wall, 27 September 1990

In his new novel William Boyd returns to Africa, the scene of his first successes, but not to the west of A Good Man in Africa or the east of An Ice-Cream War. Brazzaville Beach goes for the...

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Rachel and Heather

Stephen Wall, 1 October 1987

Anita Brookner’s novels have been preoccupied with women who feel themselves to be profoundly separate. This may be the result of either choice or necessity, or of stoically making a choice...

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Royal Americans

D.A.N. Jones, 4 October 1984

Six o’clock on a cold February morning. Three suspicious characters step warily from a train at a rundown American railway depot. The tallest, a man of 52, has a slouch hat pulled down over...

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A Good Girl in Africa

D.A.N. Jones, 16 September 1982

Buchi Emecheta’s novel is dedicated to her 1981 students at the University of Calabar. Double Yoke is a tale of student life at that university and evidently the teacher has learned a great...

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At the Gay Hussar

John Sutherland, 20 August 1981

At some point it must have crossed Braine’s mind to call his latest novel ‘Love at the Top’. The hero is Tim Harnforth, a 56-year-old best-selling novelist and man of letters....

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