Essays and reviews by Whitbread Award–winning Boyd (Restless, 2006, etc.) showcase an itinerant sensibility and imagination.
The British author certainly covers a lot of territory in this bulky collection covering 25 years and “seven broad subjects: Life, Literature, Art, Africa, Film, Television and People and Places.” Regrettably, he frequently skims the surface of these subjects and appears uninterested in avoiding either clichés or redundancy. But some gems shine from the sludge. Under the heading “Life,” we find drearily predictable details about childhood years in Africa and boarding-school ordeals, as well as the first use of an annoying A-to-Z format Boyd unaccountably favors. But we also find a lively account of “The Eleven-Year War” between the author and a borderline-unscrupulous publisher. Moving on to “Literature,” Boyd deflates reputations he considers undeserved (Muriel Spark, Richard Yates) and applauds such favorites as William Golding, W.H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh (he’s written about Waugh incessantly and, often enough, incisively). The quality ranges from a banal essay on “The Short Story” to a trenchant appreciation of Dickens’s underrated comic masterpiece Martin Chuzzlewit. “Art,” the most interesting section, offers informative examinations of once-famous British painter Graham Sutherland and French masters Braque and Monet, as well as a nifty report on the farcical “Nat Tate” hoax perpetrated by Boyd himself. “Film and Television” gathers ho-hum celebrity profiles and reviews, yet Boyd sparkles in a knowledgeable assessment of the biopic Basquiat, whose eponymous subject seems to him “a sort of latter-day, low grade, Manhattan Faust.”
The essays on art and artists are distinctive and interesting; everything else is pretty generic.