‘Sweet Caress’, by William Boyd.
This is a fictional autobiography of Amory Clay, a female photographer, written by a male. Did it work? On the whole the group felt it did although there was a sense that some of her more intimate scenes might have been from a male perspective rather than that of a female.
The book covers a period of recent history from the impact of World War 1 on Amory and her family, through decadent 1930s Berlin, World War Two, Vietnam and America after Vietnam. These are linked by photographs taken during each period in time. The result was to present the story in a series of episodes which some of the group felt contrived. Also the photographs in the book appeared rather amateurish for a professional photographer. (William Boyd collected anonymous photographs, many of which were used in this book). In his acknowledgements he mentioned Diane Arbus, also a war photographer like Amory Clay. (Interestingly her photographs are on display at the Burton until 12th June.)
All the group admired the research that had gone into the book which gave a strong sense of history although we found it difficult to warm to few, if any, characters.
The story line is low key with little high drama: some of the group liked this, others less so. This approach, however, was effective in avoiding the glorification of war. The consequences of both wars on the male figures in Amory’s life had a powerful impact on what happens to her.
The final page raises some ethical questions and the group wondered whether the part of the doctor rang true or not.
Most of the group rated the book ‘okay’ to ‘enjoyable’ although those who had read other books by William Boyd felt stories such as ‘Brazzaville Beach’, ‘Any Human Heart’ and Ordinary Thunderstorms’ were a better introduction to his work.