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December 8, 2009

Ordinary Thunderstorms — by William Boyd

His latest novel, published in September of this year, is to my way of thinking his best yet.

And that's saying something, because I've yet to find a book of his not absorbing enough to be capable of keeping me up way too late because I simply can't put it down.

"Ordinary Thunderstorms" has nothing at all to do with weather, apart from the fact that the protagonist, Adam Kindred, is a climatologist; the title is from the book's lead-in, a quote from some meteorological text, which Boyd uses to characterize the nature of the building plot, how one small thing gathers strength and force when coupled just so with others until finally enough energy has gathered that the results become devastatingly unpredictable.

Long story short: by dint of pure chance Kindred finds himself at the wrong place at a very bad time, so much so that he has to run for his life by changing his identity and appearance, then trying to disappear within the city of London as an entirely different person.

From the fifth page from the end: "It just proved to him what he had always suspected: that the myriad connections between two discrete lives — close, distant, overlapping, tangential — lie there almost entirely unknown, unobserved, a great unseen network of the nearly, the almost, the might-have-been. From time to time, in everybody's life, the network is glimpsed for a moment or two and the occasion acknowledged with a gasp of happy astonishment or a shiver of supernatural discomfort. The complex interrelatedness of human existence could reassure or disturb in equal measure.... Who knew what other invisible couplings, affirmities, links and bonds... lay out there? Who could ever precisely locate our respective positions on the great mesh that unites us?"

Above and below, parts 1&2 of an interview with Boyd about the book.

Alex Clark's Guardian review here.

Phil Baker's Times [UK] Online review here.

Well, that's fiction and art imitates but can't be equated with life.

Or can it?

Coincidentally, as I was finishing "Ordinary Thunderstorms," I received my new (December 2009) issue of Wired magazine, whose feature story is entitled "Writer Evan Ratliff Tried to Vanish: Here's What Happened."

What most struck me about this very interesting piece was the tremendous emotional strain becoming another person put on Ratliff.

He wrote, "I’d discovered how quickly the vision of total reinvention can dissolve into its lonely, mundane reality. Whatever reason you might have for discarding your old self and the people who went with it, you’ll need more than a made-up backstory and a belt full of cash to replace them."

"For weeks after the hunt ended, I still paused when introducing myself and felt a twinge of panic when I handed over my credit card. The paranoid outlook of James Donald Gatz [his alter ego] was hard to shake. Even now, my stomach lurches when I think back to the night I got caught."

December 8, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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