Archive for April, 2010

‘Restless’ by William Boyd

April 4, 2010

This is a nice novel, told in two alternating narrative strands, one taking place around 1939–41 (a spy story), the other in the 1970s (a mother–daughter story). The connection between these two strands gradually thickens, until the loose ends left over by the former are tied up in the latter. I liked it, as I did Boyd’s Any Human Heart, which by the way also contains espionage elements.

Christoph F. seems to think that Boyd is an author worth reading, a writer of good literature (what is called anspruchsvoll, ‘demanding’,¬† in German) — both as opposed to most of the authors I usually read. I remain doubtful about the comparative lack of value of my favourites, although I can’t shake my slight worry that other people might look down upon my somewhat more popular, low-brow taste. I suspect that this is a spleen of well-educated Germans: good literature isn’t entertaining, and it doesn’t belong to any popular genre like crime, science fiction, fantasy, horror etc. Good literature contains deeep thoughts (I am especially thinking of Robert Musil’s Mann ohne Eigenschaften here); reading it is hard work. If it’s fun to read, it isn’t good literature. I, on the other hand, think that if I like it there must be at least something good about it. (However, in the case of Andrew Vachss I sometimes wonder whether the appeal of his novels is mainly one to my baser instincts … Also, the foregoing opinion doesn’t cover everything I read thirty years ago, e.g., Perry Rhodan.)

Consider the Harry Potter books. They may not be written in the finest and most inventive English, they may not contain the best-crafted metaphors or the most original plotlines. But they still convey important truths about human nature, and they do so in a way that makes you feel how things go wrong when you — as we all tend to do — refuse to look reality in the eye and act accordingly. And Rowling’s do not make a big show about it. And they are great fun.

Where does this leave Boyd? In the happy position of being both enjoyable and, it seems, esteemed as high-brow literature (like John Le Carr√© — more espionage). Which implies, of course, that my verdict about Christoph and other well-educated Germans isn’t 100% true. Still, there are probably more than a few grains of truth in it.