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Love is Blind

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First, at one key point, Brodie's tyrannical father, Malky Moncur, a famously impassioned, if rather hypocritical, preacher, bases a sermon on an Apocryphal text to indirectly condemn his son: but the verses quoted bear no resemblance to any version of Baruch 6 I have seen (did Malky simply invent them? You look a bit Russian,” she says when Brodie grows a beard; Scotland, she tells him, when they arrive there in an attempt to shake off Malachi Kilbarron, reminds her of Russia, “the mood, the landscape, the poverty”. Probably not, but when you consider reported incidences of stalking, obsessive jealousy and refusal to accept a former lover has moved on, perhaps it is less unusual than one thinks. They are pursued in a cat-and-mouse chase across Europe, and eventually to India, that leaves the reader anxiously turning the pages, hoping the unlikely hero makes it out alive. A particular highlight for me was Boyd's skill in making the era come alive with his rich vibrant descriptions.

The second half kind of trailed off, and pointless characters entered the story with no real connection to what was happening, and nothing new to bring to the table. The exotic places he visits are ultimately irrelevant to the true scope of his life, a scope that remains hidden to him for most of the journey. We are told of Brodie’s encounters with prostitutes and he is evidently attractive to women, and generally quite personable and popular.I didn’t stop to examine, for example, the real-life murder of Harry Oakes when the Duke of Windsor was governor of the Bahamas in 1943. There is one brilliant set piece I won't go into, but it’s so well done I sure my eyes were bulging out of my head as I read it. Brodie, a young man born into a 'respectable' household in the Scottish countryside, will escape from Victorian rigid, fake morality to Russian emotional torment. I admire his craft as much as I ever have, even if the way I read – and maybe the way we all read – means I give in to it less. This is a 'play it again, Sam' kind of production, the novelistic equivalent of the showy orchestral chestnut 'Pines of Rome.

In the TLS's recent Booker 50th anniversary edition, various past winners were asked about underrated authors that should have featured more in the prize's reckoning. After a dip in which he produced some well-written, commercially successful but slightly anonymous thrillers, Boyd is back on a form few of his contemporaries can match. Born in Ghana and spending his early life in Nigeria, William Boyd is known around the world for his prize winning books. This is a “play it again, Sam” kind of production, the novelistic equivalent of the showy orchestral chestnut “Pines of Rome. It’s at this point in the story that Boyd discreetly begins to show his hand – to shine a light back on some of the threads and details he’s scattered earlier, and to reveal what sort of novel this is.Brodie falls hopelessly in love with Kilbarron's Russian mistress, Lika Blum, an aspiring opera soprano, and becomes a man obsessed. In its poignant closing scenes, the book balances the sad and ordinary randomness of life—its bathos even—with a kind of transcendence born out of Brodie’s longing.

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