Though my book pile is ever growing, a recent release from one of my favourite modern authors proved too tempting to resist. This post will therefore be looking once more to William Boyd with his new novel, Sweet Caress. Upon beginning this book, I must admit I was struck with an instant familiarity. As the novels protagonist and speaker, Amory Clay, began relaying her life to the reader, I couldn’t help but notice this appeared much like another work of Boyd’s: Any Human Heart. Such a comparison is however by no means a critique, in fact I was immensely happy to find myself absorbed once more in following an intricate life of travel, romance, sorrow and excitement, captured as masterfully as before.
The narrative itself is certainly a considerable feat. Following the beautiful, headstrong, clever and promiscuous Amory Clay, Boyd journeys over an entire life, covering a surprising amount within a single book. As the novel often flits between the ‘current’ journal, kept during the year 1977, and the period in focus, there is a frequent reminder of the journeys end, lending an ever-pressing desire to discover what led to this point. Whilst most novels cover but short periods of time, to witness an entire life is both refreshing and absorbing. The changing nature of the speaker throughout is testament to Boyd’s adaptable imagination, fuelling a brimming narrative which makes one question if this is indeed fiction, or even fact.
In Sweet Caress, Boyd has even moved beyond the realms of the written word, intermittently filling the pages with a variety of pictures, supposedly captured by Amory herself. The effect of this allows the reader to put word to image, adding a certain realism to the prose, proving for a deeper empathy and understanding of the speaker. The very art of photography professed by Amory indeed becomes a physical part of this novel, which can affect each reader in its own individual way.
As with most of Boyd’s novels, this is another period piece focusing on the half-century between the 1920s and 1970s. A considerable amount of research has clearly been done to add to the novels authenticity, with a plethora of names for places, technology and events frequent throughout. Coupled with the classic black and white photographs, this is used by Boyd to successfully immerse the reader into Amory’s life within this time.
From forged friendships to lost loves, harsh realities and achieved aspirations, Sweet Caress does what any good novel should; it makes you reflect upon your own life, both how you live it and who you choose to do so with.
Length: 449 (Bloomsbury)
Overall Rating: 5 stars