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Tuesday 12 June 2018
Review: William Boyd The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth and Sarah Winman Tin Man
I finished Boyd's book feeling that I have gone through life with the wrong name. Trevor Pateman. It just wouldn’t make it into William Boyd’s world. His characters have posh names and live posh, though not necessarily successful or happy, lives. The prose is worldly and glides effortlessly over the surfaces of human folly. I read the whole thing without difficulty and quite a lot of amusement and pleasure. The closing fifty page story is remarkably gripping, very artful, but also an unashamed film script in which a great deal of any director’s work is already done. It would be low-budget, too, though the lead actor would have to be well-paid.
I am less sure about the central hundred-page tale of young Bethany Mellmoth’s hapless wanderings. If your main character suffers from repetition compulsion then you sort of get the point after a few repetitions and don’t need a hundred pages of them.
I read this book after reading Sarah Winman’s Costa short-listed Tin Man. That was also readable (and since I am convalescing from hospital surgery, my current threshold for readability is probably quite high – or low - if you see what I mean). I was going to criticise her for opportunistic mobilisation of fashionable stereotypes, but then when I read Boyd’s work I thought, well, he just mobilises stereotypes which are permanently fashionable. Winman does have a long passionate section (Michael) which I thought very well done; it is very direct and does not glide over anything.