Book Review for “Trio: A Novel” by William Boyd.
Summary: “It is summer in 1968, the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. While the world is reeling our trio is involved in making a rackety Swingin’ Sixties British movie in sunny Brighton. All are leading secret lives. As the film is shot, with its usual drastic ups and downs, so does our trio’s private, secret world begin to take over their public one. Pressures build inexorably – someone’s going to crack. Or maybe they all will. From one of Britain’s bestselling and best loved writers comes an exhilarating, tender novel that asks the vital questions: what makes life worth living? And what do you do if you find it isn’t?”
Age: Adult; Genres: Fiction – Literary; Settings: Historical/Contemporary; United Kingdom, Brighton; France; Other Categories: Novel, movies & films.
Let’s start this review by saying that Boyd really does ask those questions in the summary – what makes life worth living, and what do you do if you find it isn’t? I think that this is what is most fascinating about this novel – Boyd’s ability to try to understand human nature, and the dilemmas that life hands us, together with how different people approach life and its problems in different ways. Boyd does this through three different main characters, an actor on the film called Anny, a writer called Elfrida (whose husband is directing the film), and one of the movie’s producers called Talbot. Each one of them has a secret, or something they’re ashamed of, and each one of them tries to find a way to either rid themselves of their shame, or figure out how to live with themselves. Although there is a plot here – mostly focused around the movie – most of what Boyd brings us here are character studies, and this is definitely a character-driven novel.
I also need to repeat that I find Boyd’s writing to be among the finest out there today. He has a casual way of evoking both calm and anxiety, both the ordinary and the extraordinary, both the absurd and the logical, in clear language that is liberally (but not overly) interspersed with descriptive prose that feels ultimately graceful and perceptive. What always surprises me about Boyd is how artfully and accurately he is able to portray women, without even the slightly undertones of misogyny, and he’s never patronizing either. While I haven’t read all that many of his books (despite having a few more on my shelves than I’ve reviewed here), I believe this is the first time I’ve read a book or story of his that also portrays a homosexual male. Now, I don’t know Boyd’s gender, and I’m a straight woman, so I’m no expert, but I do feel that there was nothing disrespectful in Boyd’s portrayal of Talbot Eastman, or any of the other gay men in this story. I know everyone is into #OwnVoices novels but you must respect an author who can convincingly get into the minds and under the skins of people who are different than themselves. Of course, it helps that this story takes place in 1968 and not today.
Boyd also brings in some very interesting elements here in each of the three stories. Elfrida, for example, is an author that’s been called a modern-day Virginia Woolf, much to her chagrin, especially while she’s suffering from writer’s block. Talbot keeps hearing the song “MacArthur Park” played everywhere, and he keeps trying to figure out what the song’s lyrics mean. Anny is plagued by her ex-husband, and his criminal past brings the FBI and CIA after her. Boyd returns to these features at various intervals throughout the novel, and the reader gets to figure out both their significance and their effect on these characters’ lives (if any), along with the three protagonists, as the story progresses. In this way, Boyd essentially makes this into three, parallel, psychological dramas, together with the three different character studies. I don’t know if other authors mix genre components in this way, but I certainly feel that Boyd does this consistently in his work, making his stories just a bit different than your run-of-the-mill, mainstream, literary fiction.
All of this makes for a real page-turner, with characters we can sympathize with very easily – even if there is unease in their lives. There was one point where I thought they’d all come together and be part of a larger plan, but I’m actually glad that this wasn’t part of the story, since that might have been a cliché. Therefore, there’s no reason why I can’t give this novel my wholehearted recommendation with a full five out of five stars. Yes, Boyd has done it again! Bravo, sir, bravo! (By the way, I’m calling this both historical and contemporary since it is set only barely over 50 years ago.)
Knopf Publishing Group released “Trio: A Novel” by William Boyd in the US on January 19, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.