Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ordinary Thunderstorms

There is a great book in here waiting to get out. Unfortunately this isn't it. Don't get me wrong: I am a big fan of William Boyd and have read almost all of his novels. Unfortunately enjoying all the others more than this one.

My favourite of his novels is Armadillo and Ordinary Thunderstorms sounded like it came from a similar vein, so I was looking forward to this one. Literary thrillers usually work best with a certain amount of suspension of belief, but even allowing for that the plot is just too full of implausibilities and there are too many annoying little errors for it to be a complete pleasure like Armadillo.

Straight off we are confronted with the main character – climatologist Adam Kindred – behaving totally out of character. Or, to be honest, behaving totally unlike any rational person in the world would. And since the whole book flows from this one incident that is a bit of a problem. Boyd works hard and has clearly put a lot of thought into trying to justify Kindred's behaviour, but it still doesn't ring true. Things do improve from here, but there are too many convenient, clearly flagged events and situations which later turn into key plot devices and much of the plot seems forced and dependent on setting up an already mapped out narrative.

There are lots of great bits: the way he works the Thames throughout the book from the opening scene through two deaths and on to the very last pages, the Church of John Christ, Mr Quality and Adam's love interest – the (lovely) Rita, river policewoman who lives on a decommissioned navy vessel moored at Nine Elms Pier.

The innocent bystander caught in a big conspiracy and fleeing for his life isn't a new idea, but Boyd uses the contemporary London setting to bring a new slant, highlighting and raising lots of interesting points about society, politics and our global economic structures on the way. I have come to the conclusion that he isn't capable of writing a bad book, but it is a shame that the flaws and problems with this one means that it doesn't match-up to his best work.

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