by James Smith
for me, is all about liberating my imagination," writes William Boyd in
his introduction to The
Dream Lover, "and that liberation seems to function
particularly appealingly in the short-story form."
This anthology, drawn from previous collections, amply demonstrates
Boyd’s felicity with, and love of, the short story.
Many of Boyd’s
stories are playful, written in a jocular and very English style. He
describes the miserable burden of the expatriate embassy official in
Africa (a popular theme in Boyd’s fiction) and the miserable burden of
schoolboy virginity, but he approach is humorous, not grim – a bit like
Graham Greene with jokes. He is as comfortable writing from the
viewpoint of a young lad witnessing his mother’s infidelity as he is an
American pool cleaner who’s taken to the, um, cleaners by his
girlfriend. The Destiny
of Nathalie ‘X’ is a ruthless dissection of the Hollywood
system told in documentary form and featuring a multitude of cleverly
appear more than once in the book: an English language student in Nice
obsesses about girls in two stories, and Morgan Leafy, the
aforementioned overweight diplomat twice gets himself entangled in
unsatisfactory liaisons with women.
Ah yes, women.
There are plenty of them in this book, and Boyd takes care to describe
them – and particularly their chests – in all their nubile
He saw her
lying in a huge rumpled bed, a lace peignoir barely covering two
breasts as firm and symmetrical as halved grapefruits;
herself, crushing her full breasts with her forearms;
I could not
help noticing the way the taupe silk singlet she wore clung to her
And if it’s not
breasts, it’s bras:
She was wearing
only a black bra and pants that
contrasted strongly with the pale freckly tan of her firm body;
she pulled it
down revealing an absurd cut-away bra that
offered her nipples like canapés on a cocktail tray
absence of one goes satisfying with the presence of the other:
noticed too, that she never wears a brassière, and the thin material of
her T-shirt is moulded closely to her breasts.
This facet of
Boyd’s writing gives his stories a slightly dated
locker-room feel and highlights the problem of gathering together
stories originally published across a wide variety of magazines and
journals over a long period of time. Read one at a time, the stories’
breast element (for want of a better phrase) is barely (ha ha) noticed;
over the length of the collection, it starts to look as though Boyd’s
liberated imagination has settled somewhere warm and soft.
It would, of
course, be wrong to pigeonhole this collection as the
droolings of a succession of oversexed protagonists. Boyd is not
without his experimental side, twice playing with the idea of the
unreliable narrator; bringing Wittgenstein to life as a character; and
using the diary form in the peculiar Extracts from the Journal of
Flying Officer J.
In spite of the
levity of much of Boyd’s writing, it
is interesting that the most moving story in this collection is devoid
of any humour or tricks. On
the Yankee Station manages to be both a
meditation on the horror of war in general, and a gripping story of a
few of the people caught up in its whirlwind.
The Dream Lover,
many things: light, witty and funny; occasionally dark; tricksy;
slightly seedy. Boyd’s mastery of the form means that he has can hide
the undoubted effort that has gone into crafting these tales beneath
simple exteriors. He has also troubled to tell good stories and draw
them to lip-smackingly satisfying conclusions.
review was first published in Story)
as a bookseller for ten years before moving to Booktrust, an
independent national charity that encourages people of all ages and
cultures to enjoy reading. He edits the Booktrust website as well as
the Story site and one dedicated to books about London
(www.getlondonreading.co.uk). He has just launched
www.translatedfiction.org.uk, which promotes translated fiction in the
Boyd is the author of nine novels, many of them prize
winners, and three short story collections. A collection of his
is also available. In addition, Boyd has written thirteen screenplays
and written and directed the film The
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