Books that Inspire Me: William Boyd’s ‘Armadillo’

Back in 2001, I stumbled across this book by William Boyd in a second hand shop. I hadn’t heard of Boyd at that time (despite the success he’d had with ‘A Good Man in Africa‘ and ‘An Ice-Cream War‘). But the front cover seemed appealing (who doesn’t wonder why a man has a box on his head), so I thought ‘what the hell, might as well buy it’.

And so began my love of all things William Boyd (well apart from The Trench and that was mainly because it had that lad from eastenders in it – poor casting choice as opposite Daniel Craig he really didn’t look good nor act well).

Armadillo remains my favourite book by Boyd, just. (Restless is a strong contender against it and I’ll post a review of that classic another day.)

The story follows the main character of Lorimer Black,an avid collector of ancient helmets and also a man trying to detach from his past (and the family Bloc), suffering from a sleep disorder and desperately trying to negotiate his way through the complexities of the British class system.

Black works as a loss adjuster (who thought a writer could make working in insurance rather cool) and the story begins on a cold january morning as Black, making a work call on ‘an adjust’ finds the client has committed suicide.

So begins the unravelling of Lorimer Black’s carefully crafted life.

I won’t spoil the meandering storyline for you but it is filled with unexpected turns and surprises.

But not in any form of ‘wham bam thankyou thriller ma’am’ sort of way. Instead what Boyd creates is a complex, subtle storyline that takes us to the heart of a the life of a modern twentieth century man struggling to find his place in the world.

Put the storyline down onto paper and at first it wouldn’t seem to grab you. A man, who works in insurance, becomes embroiled in a potential insurance scandal whilst simultaneously trying to meet the love of his life, manage relationships with family, lover and work colleagues, understand the intricacies of the British class system, find the cash to buy more Greek helms and be a part of a scientific study delving into the reasons for his sleep disorder. You can imagine, if Boyd was a new writer, an agent or publisher scratching their chin and going ‘well not a lot actually happens in it, does it?’

Yet it is this reason that makes it, in my opinion, stand out a modern British classic. It was the subtlety in Boyd’s writing that grabbed me. There, for perhaps the first time, I read a book that made me realise that great writing didn’t have to be explosive or dramatic. It was quite simply a revelation about how to write a carefully and simply crafted storyline focused on the development of one human being in which much but at the same time not a lot happens.

It was, and is, a reflection of the real world in which we all live in. Its life boiled down. Simple as that.

And of course it also helps that the reader really wants to love Lorimer Black.

So if you are looking for an outstanding read that doesn’t batter you senseless yet retains your interest from the first to the last page, then you could do a whole lot worse than read William Boyd’sArmadillo‘.

Because, in my opinion, Boyd remains one of the great British talents of our generation.


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