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A Bit of a Lush

Christopher Tayler: William Boyd

23 May 2002
Any Human Heart 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 504 pp., £17.99, April 2002, 9780241141779
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... 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 obsessive moviegoer who refuses to watch anything which doesn’t meet his one absolute criterion: ‘he believed, with a fundamental zeal, that a true film, a film that was true to the nature of its own form, had to have a happy ending ...

Mockmen

Stephen Wall

27 September 1990
Brazzaville Beach 
by William Boyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 314 pp., £13.95, September 1990, 1 85619 026 9
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A Bottle in the Smoke 
by A.N. Wilson.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 279 pp., £13.95, September 1990, 1 85619 019 6
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Temples of Delight 
by Barbara Trapido.
Joseph, 318 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 7181 3467 2
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... 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 centre – and appropriately so, since the questions it raises are more searching than before. They’re pursued with a narrative fluency and clarity of design that rewards and deserves attention ...
16 September 1982
Double Yoke 
by Buchi Emecheta.
Dgwugwu Afor, 163 pp., £3, September 1982, 0 9508177 0 8
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The Aerodrome 
by Rex Warner.
Bodley Head, 304 pp., £6.95, July 1982, 9780370309262
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AVery British Coup 
by Chris Mullin.
Hodder, 220 pp., £6.95, September 1982, 0 340 28586 9
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An Ice Cream War 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 370 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 241 10868 3
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Tempting Fate 
by Michael Levey.
Hamish Hamilton, 220 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 241 10801 2
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... their coven seems to be under the chairmanship of the very fat man who waters the workers’ beer. William Boyd brings us back to the realities of the ‘modernisation’ of Africa. An Ice Cream War is about what Africa can do to European modernisers – in this case British and German settlers in East Africa during the 1914-18 war. ...

Onomastics

Alex Ivanovitch: William Boyd

4 June 1998
Armadillo 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 310 pp., £16.99, February 1998, 0 241 13928 7
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Nat Tate: American Artist, 1928-60 
by William Boyd.
Twenty One, 77 pp., £9.95, April 1998, 1 901785 01 7
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... 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 sensitivity to the tricky business of naming. ‘What if we hadn’t had such great names?’ Frank O’Hara wonders in Nat Tate, the hoax biography that took in much of New York’s art establishment a few weeks ago: ‘what if we had been called Gilbert Kline, Jonathan Pollock, Cyril O’Hara, Jennifer Krasner, Timothy Rivers, Philip Tate?’ The question is left hanging but the answer, in Tate’s case, is that this little practical joke would surely have gone out into the world without its best gag ...

A Very Modern Man

Edmund Gordon: William Boyd

8 March 2012
Waiting for Sunrise 
by William Boyd.
Bloomsbury, 368 pp., £18.99, February 2012, 978 1 4088 1774 2
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... obviously’. Peppering the story with celebrity faces and momentous events is a familiar move in Boyd’s fiction. In The New Confessions (1987), John James Todd, a Scottish filmmaker, fights in the trenches, is pauperised by the Wall Street crash, witnesses the rise of Nazism in Berlin (where he attends parties with Fritz Lang and Thomas Mann), and arrives ...

Strange Love

William Boyd

1 December 1983
The Africans 
by David Lamb.
Bodley Head, 363 pp., £12.50, August 1983, 0 370 30968 5
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African Princess 
by Princess Elizabeth of Toro.
Hamish Hamilton, 230 pp., £9.95, September 1983, 0 241 11002 5
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The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat 
by Ryszard Kapuściński, translated by William Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowsa-Brand.
Quartet, 164 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 7043 2415 6
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... 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 ...
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 ...
5 September 1985
The Randlords: The Men who made South Africa 
by Geoffrey Wheatcroft.
Weidenfeld, 314 pp., £12.95, July 1985, 0 297 78437 4
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... 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 ...

Semi-colons are for the weak

Colin Burrow: Bond Redux

19 December 2013
Solo: A James Bond Novel 
by William Boyd.
Cape, 322 pp., £18.99, September 2013, 978 0 224 09747 5
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... Off to Africa this time. But reading Graham Greene on the flight? What kind of pansy does this Boyd fellow think I am? Nasty civil war to sort out. Oil money at stake. That’s more like it. Juicy little coffee-coloured girl who turns out to be the local section head, too. Or does she? There had been a time when Bond made his way in prose like a stealthy ...

Not Telling

Ronan Bennett

23 September 1993
The Blue Afternoon 
by William Boyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 324 pp., £14.99, September 1993, 1 85619 366 7
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... blue, cobalt, violet ... we can hardly doubt that something meaningful is intended. But what? William Boyd’s title is inspired by Wallace Stevens’s enigmatic ‘Landscape with Boat’ (quoted epigraphically): He brushed away the thunder, then the clouds, Then the colossal illusion of heaven. Yet still The sky was blue. He wanted imperceptible ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: Howard Hodgkin

6 July 2006
... there are writings, culled from various sources, by Julian Barnes, James Fenton, Susan Sontag, William Boyd, Bruce Chatwin, Bruce Bernard and Colm Tóibín (Barnes has also made a loan to the exhibition). Some are affectionately biographical. Comparisons between Hodgkin’s art of memory and Proust’s are made.* The pleasure the pictures give ...
1 October 1987
A Friend from England 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 205 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 224 02443 4
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The New Confessions 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 462 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 241 12383 6
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The Colour of Blood 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 182 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 224 02513 9
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... and technically adroit articulation of the question that Anita Brookner has so far produced. In William Boyd’s The New Confessions a crucial part is played by Rousseau’s old ones, and the presence of its precursor is not altogether to the novel’s advantage. The revelations are made by John James Todd, a forgotten film-director in Mediterranean ...

At the Gay Hussar

John Sutherland

20 August 1981
One and Last Love 
by John Braine.
Eyre Methuen, 175 pp., £6.50, June 1981, 0 413 47990 0
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Sweetsir 
by Helen Yglesias.
Hodder, 332 pp., £6.95, August 1981, 9780340270424
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On the Yankee Station 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 184 pp., £7.95, July 1981, 0 241 10426 2
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Byzantium endures 
by Michael Moorcock.
Secker, 404 pp., £6.95, June 1981, 0 436 28458 8
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Heavy Sand 
by Anatoli Rybakov, translated by Harold Shuckman.
Allen Lane, 380 pp., £7.95, June 1981, 0 7139 1343 6
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... than up the road at Bertorelli’s. Michael Foot passes by and nods, albeit ‘briefly’. Marcia Williams sweeps in: expect no nods from her. She comes under the novelist’s scalpel: ‘She’s an attractive woman, her face has a good bone structure, but there’s something curiously unreal about her.’ Unawed, the couple make sophisticated table-talk ...

Beefcake Ease

Miranda Carter: Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen

14 January 2002
Robert Mitchum: Solid, Dad, Crazy 
by Damien Love.
Batsford, 208 pp., £15.99, December 2001, 0 7134 8707 0
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Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care 
by Lee Server.
Faber, 590 pp., £20, October 2001, 0 571 20994 7
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McQueen: The Biography 
by Christopher Sandford.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £16.99, October 2001, 0 00 257195 1
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... shoot a gun and look comfortable in front of the camera. There was no direction to speak of. William Boyd, who played Hopalong Cassidy, was, as Lee Server notes in his extremely long but enjoyable Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don’t Care, ‘a scrupulous underplayer’, who made everything he did look natural and never upstaged or demanded ...

Diary

Julian Barnes: Burning Letters

7 July 1988
... phrase with Timothy Mo, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro and Craig ‘Hurricane’ Raine; also with William Boyd, who, unlike the rest of us, adds of his manucripts that he ‘would be “very reluctant” to allow any access to them’. (This sounds pretty suspicious – what’s Boyd trying to hide? Ah, maybe his stuff ...

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