Book review: Sweet Caress

William BoydThis is a tour through history, via the life story of Amory Clay, photographer, born 1908. In 1977, from Barrandale in Scotland, she looks back at her life from schoolgirl to 1920s Berlin, 1930s New York, pre-war fascist riots in London, France in the Second World War, Vietnam in the Sixties and a hippie commune in California. In Sweet Caress, William Boyd uses the same technique that was so successful in Any Human Heart: slipping a fictional character into a grid of true events. It works, again, just. The lines between fact and fiction are satisfactorily blurred, when Amory meets someone new I found myself asking, ‘is this a real person or an invented one?’

I read this book quickly, the drive of historical events pulling me through. I didn’t quite connect with Amory, I’m not sure why. Possibly, because the only viewpoint we see is hers. I never really got why men were drawn to her so. She only sleeps with five men in her life, neatly there is one for each segment of her life. One scene I could have done without, a description of her first lover after sex made me cringe. Boyd is strongest when writing about the war reporting, clearly an interest of his own, and believable.

I am not a photographer so the technical details of cameras passed over my head [I was curious but unconvinced by the black and white photographs which punctuate the pages] but her role as first society photographer, fashion photographer and eventually war photographer does give her an entry into the most dramatic events of the 20th century. The ending was clever.

A good read, but not his absolute best. I am still a big fan.

If you like ‘Sweet Caress’, try:-
‘The Signature of All Things’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
‘After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall
‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt

‘Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd [UK: Bloomsbury] Buy now

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