Sweet Caress by William Boyd

January 2018

Boyd is one of our best known modern authors and well known for taking a risky approach to his novels.

Sweet Caress traces from birth to death (or thereabouts) the life of the main character Amory Clay who experiences at first-hand several of the 20th century’s defining events. Born in 1908, Amory is introduced to photography by her uncle, and, after leaving school, works with him taking society portraits. But she yearns for something more exciting – and soon finds it. Taking pictures of prostitutes in Weimar Berlin, she has to run from Nazi thugs. Covering a fascist march in the East End, she’s beaten up by Blackshirts. Following the Allies through France in 1944, she comes under gunfire for the first time – although not the last, because in 1966 she goes off to Vietnam.The effect of Amory is that of an interesting woman with a life well-lived, who is not content to sit back and be beautiful as an adored wife or mistress.

Book club members liked Amory,her weird family and the panoramic view of great events in the twentieth century that her story provided.

Amory’s life as a photographer,wife,mother as well as a lover and the contrasts created by her later life of solitude gave the book an interest and depth that kept most of us intrigued to the end.

Boyd takes a big risk by illustrating the book with strange and interesting real photographs purporting to document his character’s life.He apparently collected them from random sources: car boot sales and junk shops.They create a sense of episodic reflections from a fascinating life and give the book a journalistic feel.

Only a couple of book club members didn’t get on with the book,they found it to be too loose and an arbitrary collection of individual scenes which left Amory herself undeveloped as a character – with Boyd moving her to any time and place that he fancies writing about.We also discussed whether the author really understood women at a deep level.

But the overall view was that this was a very good and interesting read.