“I drink gin at lunch, whisky in the evening….Three glasses, sometimes four. I sit reading, smoking, listening to the radio or to music and let my senses tilt steadily over into mild and delicious inebriation, hearing the wind-thud, the hoarse sea heaving outside.”
It’s 1977 and 69-year-old Amory Clay is thinking about her life and journaling. The book goes back and forth in time. from her self-imposed exile on a remote Hebridean island, to reveries about the main events of her life. Born in 1908, she has led an exceedingly rich and complicated life. As in Any Human Heart, Boyd places his fictional characters amongst real historical figures and events, from Weimar Germany, to pre-war New York, to WWII and even Vietnam.
Her young life in a privileged family is marred when her father returns from WWI a changed man. His mind deteriorates to the point that he tries to kill the both of them by driving their car into a lake. They survive and her father is placed in an expensive institution which employed a new approach known as Deep Sleep Therapy (or continuous narcosis). After a long convalescence. Amory finishes school and heads to London to become a photographer, acting as an apprentice to her uncle. That’s where another conceit of this novel comes in. There are photographs interspersed throughout, supposedly of Amory, her family and subjects and later, her war reporting. I found myself wondering where these photos actually came from and who those people were. That’s when I knew this book just wasn’t working for me. I just could not connect with Amory, so I never really had a burning desire to spend that much time with her. By the end of the book I was more than ready to bid her adieu. Also, all the slightly overwrought prose and detailed descriptions got on my nerves and I found myself yearning for the concise and crystalline beauty of Simenon.