Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd

IMG_1556 What does one really want from a novel? There’s nothing wrong with a good plot: Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels set great store by their intricate criss-crossings and silky lines which bind and I cherish those. William Boyd is a very fine novelist: I am looking forward to reading his 007 effort Solo. I really enjoyed Any Human Heart and his Nat Tate spoof. I was gripped by Restless. And so… Ordinary Thunderstorms. One of the main problems is that it feels like a grid exercise, which threads impeccably drawn together, nothing more. Characters are introduced, they interrelate, there is narrative, a conclusion: it is a technical achievement with no real depth. Admittedly, this sort of skill is enough to buy Boyd a Chelsea townhouse and Hockney paintings – no mean feat. Like John Lanchester’s Capital and Sebastian Faulks’ A Week In December (both far better books), this is a London novel: it begins with the Thames and the river runs through it, evoking Our Mutual Friend in its exploration of the grimy side of life in the city. Adam Kindred, a thirtysomething academic, witnesses a murder. Instead of reporting it to the police, he goes on the run on just-about-reasonable basis that he is the most likely suspect. The victim is a scientist who has doubts about drug trials involving the deaths of children. There is a Big Pharma angle (all drugs companies are evil, obviously). This is a thriller, with thriller tropes: Adam becomes no less resourceful than Jonjo, the ex-SAS killer who is trying to erase him at the behest of shadowy employers. He is also virtually indifferent to his own culpability for the violent death of a prostitute who helps him, and even to the act of murder itself. All of this would be forgivable. But to move his narrative forward Boyd needs to rely, by my count, on at least three outrageous coincidences. This is less easy to excuse. Enough negativity: I am essentially complaining about a book which I was eager to keep reading, which retained my interest and which I enjoyed. These are, in short, the arguments of a churl. William Boyd, in his Chelsea townhouse, with his Hockneys, writes on, unperturbed.

 

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