Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay

Judge the book by its cover- underwhelming.

Judge the book by its cover – underwhelming.

Sweet Caress” is one of those most disappointing of things; a bad book by a favorite author. I’ve read everything (fiction-wise) that William Boyd has ever written and as soon as I heard about this I knew I would buy it.

The book is a fictional set of memoirs by a character called Amory Clay whose life spans most of the 20th century. Boyd’s used this same technique before in his most acclaimed novel “Any Human Heart“, so I had no doubt he could pull it off. He’s also successfully written females as the main character – in his clever thriller “Restless“. The sad reality is though it doesn’t work in this case. Boyd still writes beautifully and the novel starts well….but the character doesn’t develop for me. Her love interests, which are central to the book just feel random. A selfish american bloke, a fat french clown, a shell-shocked English soldier (supposed to evoke her Dad) and tedious descriptions of each man’s penis (Big, small, bendy..who cares!)

The 1930s Berlin section just doesn’t evoke the place, and her reaction to fairly cataclysmic events is pretty much indifference as far as I can tell, all the way through the book. Even some of the research just seems below par versus previous Boyd books. The Vietnam section appears to be drawn from watching “Platoon” – cliched beyond belief. I get the impression the publisher wanted this, and Boyd did the best job he could even though he must of known it wasn’t working. Just a very average book interspersed with dull, grainy photographs. I finished it out of loyalty to Boyd but if I was on Amazon I’d give this 2 stars maximum. Bizarrely it has some positive reviews, but as I’m learning, doing book reviews is difficult, whether you like the book or not, and I think some of the reviewers maybe have gone on reputation.

Amory Clay’s family has a fun way of describing people & things to each other through the book – using four words only. A neat idea I think. For “Sweet Caress” I would choose: Boring, pretentious, flat, arduous.

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