Partly good and partly disappointing: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, the latest collection of short stories by William Boyd, is a bit of a curate’s egg. The shorter the stories, the more satisfying.
Organised in three parts, the first comprises seven short stories. If asked for my favourite from Part 1, I would say the first, ‘The Man Who Liked Kissing Women’. Ludo Abernathy is an art dealer who has foresworn affairs, his previous dalliances having finished three marriages. Now, he sticks to kissing women. Except when he can’t resist the temptation of making a killing on a Lucien Freud painting.
The title story, the longest in the anthology, makes up Part 2. It is more novella than short story, and I almost wish Boyd had developed it as such with a full plotline rather than letting Bethany Mellmoth drift from scene to scene. Bethany is a naïve twenty-something who drifts from boyfriend to boyfriend, dreaming of what she can do with her life but failing to make it happen. Each time it goes wrong, she gives up and moves back with her mother. It was a pleasant read but I’m unclear of Boyd’s central message – perhaps, the over-reliance of young drifters on parents rather than being truly independent – which meant I felt no urgency to read to the end. Of course I did. Bethany’s drifting started to annoy me; perhaps that was Boyd’s point?
Part 3 comprised one story, ‘The Vanishing Game: An Adventure’ which stopped abruptly. It starts off well: Alec Dunbar is an actor who keeps being called to auditions, mistakenly for Alexa Dunbar. His bad day improves when an actress who is waiting for an audition for the same film, offers him £1000 to deliver a package for her to Scotland. Dunbar’s road journey is peppered with references to the various films he has appeared in, and this is humorous. But the action becomes increasingly oddball, and the ending was disappointing. I prefer stories and novels that don’t tie up all the loose ends, but this one finished with too much remaining unexplained.
‘The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth’ by William Boyd [UK: Viking]
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