I’m a huge fan of William Boyd’s books, so when I learnt that there was a new one coming out, I quickly pre-ordered it and eagerly anticipated it’s arrival.
William Boyd writes quite varied books in terms of time, setting and storyline. One of the things I love about them. This one is a fairly recent time setting as it’s set in the year 1968 and is based around three characters, who are all linked in some way, to the filming of a movie in Brighton on the south coast.
Most people live their real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy. Anton Chekhov
A producer. A novelist. An actress.
It is summer in 1968, the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. There are riots in Paris and the Vietnam War is out of control. While the world is reeling our three characters are involved in making a Swingin’ Sixties movie in sunny Brighton.
All are leading secret lives. Elfrida is drowning her writer’s block in vodka; Talbot, coping with the daily dysfunction of making a film, is hiding something in a secret apartment; and the glamorous Anny is wondering why the CIA is suddenly so interested in her.
But the show must go on and, as it does, the trio’s private worlds begin to take over their public ones. Pressures build inexorably – someone’s going to crack. Or maybe they all will.
From one of Britain’s best loved writers comes an exhilarating, tender novel that asks the vital questions: what makes life worth living? And what do you do if you find it isn’t?
Summer 1968 and we are in Brighton, along with the three main characters Talbot, Anny and Elfrida who make up the trio of the book. Filming is taking place for the ridiculously titled Emily Bracegirdle’s Extremely Useful Ladder to the Moon and as we follow them around during the days of filming, we learn of their ‘inner selves’ and their ‘real’ lives.
Talbot Kydd. Film Producer, Ex military, married with a grown up son but hiding his sexuality.
Anny Vikland. American Film actress, a young, rising star who’s ex husband, a freedom fighter, is currently being chased by the FBI. She seeks love from all the wrong kind of men and calm from a bottle of Equanil.
Elfrida Wing. Wife of the film’s director Reggie. An author, once hailed as the next Virginia Wolf who’s only thing she has written in the last 10 years is a long list of titles for books she could have written if she wasn’t suffering from writer’s block and an addiction to alcohol.
With the backdrop of Paris riots, the Vietnam War and a changing world we follow these characters outside the safe but stressful day to day goings on of the film industry and wait to see if and how they will survive.
I found this an enjoyable read, with some lovely comic touches and subtle but effective nods to the era in question. Not as in depth perhaps as many of his other novels, I still found myself immersed in the story and with many of the characters vivid to me from the very beginning. I particularly liked the character of Elfrida, with her comic touches and her plain talking. Clearly ill and with an addiction to alcohol I couldn’t help but feel for her and loved her ‘bottle of Sarsons’.
I loved reading of the background goings on to the making of the film and the problematic situations that arise which Talbot then has to deal with.
Lately when I’ve read novels where the stories of different characters are told, it ends with them being drawn together at the end with their connection becoming known. Here however, their connection is at the start of the book, with the filming of the movie, and as we read along and learn about their personal lives, we see them diverge and watch as their stories take on very different paths. For me, this gave the book a feel of three separate short stories, all interesting but with a feel very much of their own. Yet another different style from this talented author.
I have found a number of interviews online to promote the book, Daunt books and one with the fabulous Tamsin Greig, which are very insightful and I would recommend. I felt watching these and learning of the authors inspiration for the novel gave me a better understand for the book.
The book also features on the next Sky Arts Book Club over on Facebook so will definitely give that a watch.