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Armadillo: A Novel

Armadillo: A Novel

4.0 2
by William Boyd

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On a cold winter's morning, Lorimer Black, an insurance adjustor -- young, good-looking, on the rise -- goes to keep a perfectly ordinary appointment only to find a hanged man.

His life is about to be turned upside down and in directions he never imagined. The elements at play: A beautiful actress with whom he finds himself falling in love after a quick glimpse


On a cold winter's morning, Lorimer Black, an insurance adjustor -- young, good-looking, on the rise -- goes to keep a perfectly ordinary appointment only to find a hanged man.

His life is about to be turned upside down and in directions he never imagined. The elements at play: A beautiful actress with whom he finds himself falling in love after a quick glimpse of her in a passing taxi ... an odd, new, business associate whose hiring, firing and rehiring make little sense ... a rock musician whose loss -- in this case of his mind -- may be "adjusted" by the insurance company. What ties it all together: a web of fraud in which virtually everyone he knows is somewhat involved, a web in which he finds himself being increasingly entangled.

Editorial Reviews

Ben Greenman
A satirical noir. . .probing, droll, and full of rewards.
Time Out
Observer (London)
A real page-turner.
Charles Taylor
In the midst of the dully compelling puzzle that is William Boyd'si>Armadillo is a minor character named David Watts, a hugely successful rock singer. Someone has to tell Boyd's protagonist, an insurance adjuster named Lorimer Black, that Watts has named himself after a song by the Kinks. Hearing "David Watts" for the first time, Lorimer describes it as "a song about someone who could do no wrong, someone who was revered and worshipped by his peers, someone who, to all intents and purposes, was perfect." Well, no."David Watts" is a song about someone "revered and worshipped by his peers," but it's sung by someone who will never be David Watts' peer. Ray Davies sings it in the voice of a self-described "dull and simple lad," one whose heart is green as much from bile as from envy.

What does William Boyd's mishearing of a 30-year-old rock song have to do with the rest of Armadillo? It sums up his imprecision. There are ample reasons why the singer who chooses to call himself David Watts would hear Ray Davies' song as being about hero worship. But there's nothing to indicate that Boyd himself knows it's about something more. This inability (unwillingness?) is indicative of the haze that hangs over the entire novel. Haze is different from ambiguity, which still implies some sureness of purpose, and which might suit the subject. Armadillo is a book about people who've taken pains to conceal their motives and identities. Many of its characters have abandoned their birth names as if they were unflattering clothes. Lorimer, whose real name is Milomre Blocj, has escaped his ethnic roots and reinvented himself as a young London professional of rarefied tastes. His business, trying to keep insurance companies from paying out the money they've promised, is a con game run with the protection of the law, but Lorimer does his best not to let its unsavory nature rub off on him. His genteel lifestyle is his armadillo's shell. Trouble is, what's beneath it isn't very compelling.

Neither are the plot complications Boyd puts Lorimer through. We can see that the various pieces (the suicide Lorimer stumbles upon; the co-worker who takes a shine to him; the arson case Lorimer is investigating) will eventually fit together, and that keeps us reading. But you never feel like there's anything much at stake. Boyd's atmospheric vagueness can be exotically entertaining in his short fiction, as it was in his last collection, The Destiny of Nathalie X, but here he doesn't seem to be possessed by the subject or his story. Armadillo is like an exceptionally literate and halfhearted thriller. Boyd doesn't even seem to have fully taken in the current moment. Lorimer is the sort of self-absorbed materialistic protagonist you'd expect in a novel about acquisitive '80s yuppies. Like everything else about Armadillo, his purchased sophistication feels half-right and terribly, terribly vague. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The ever-inventive Boyd -- whose highly praised first novel, A Good Man in Africa, was followed by others set in Africa and America, sets this latest work in contemporary London, which he observes with the close attention of someone seeing it for the first time. In fact, his protagonist, Lorimer Black, is not exactly a native: his ancestry derives from an obscure Central European Gypsy clan who made it to London after the war. Lorimer is the only truly Anglicized one among them, from his name to his careful sense of what to wear and say on every occasion. He is a loss adjuster at a big insurance company, whose day begins unsettlingly with the suicide of an insured client he was about to visit. Then a new hotel building, mysteriously overinsured, burns down, and his boss, the overbearing and cheerfully philosophical Mr. Hogg, seems to want Lorimer to investigate. A dreadful new colleague comes into his life and tries to make Lorimer his best friend; Lorimer falls hard for a mysterious actress glimpsed in one of his company's TV commercials; his car is vandalized, and he is attacked in the street; his elderly father dies suddenly; and Hogg turns nasty and fires him. Throughout all this, poor Lorimer, stricken with a severe sleep disorder, tries to get some rest at a sleep clinic where he seeks what he calls 'lucid dreams,' which -- unlike his waking life -- he can control. Boyd's comic writing is zesty and brilliantly on-target about contemporary Londoners, high and low, and Lorimer's adventures have enough of an alarming edge to keep a reader constantly, and delightedly, off balance. The only flaw in an otherwise sparkling performance is an odd and unlikely journal Lorimer keeps, which is designed to fill the gaps in his previous life, but which never sounds like anything other than the author's voice.
David Nicholson
Everything good fiction should be. . .It begins with a jolt. . .and then goes on to become even better. -- The Washington Post
Michael Shelden
Witty and exquisitely complicated. . .The tale combines a touch of Dickensian realistic comedy with a Kafkaesque sense of modern urban terror. -- The Baltimore Sun
Richard Bernstein
Boyd's storytelling talents are fully in evidence in this entertaining novel. -- The New York Times
A. O. Scott
. . .[F]ull of loose ends, unsolved mysteries and red herrings. But. . .also charming, unsettling and sneakily, serendipitously profound. -- The New York Times Book Review
The Observer (London)
A real page-turner.
Kirkus Reviews
A mingling of financial highjinks and social satire by one of the most restlessly inventive of contemporary British novelists. Boyd (The Blue Afternoon) has found an almost perfect metaphor for the uncertain nature of identity in the Western world in the life of an insurance claims adjuster. Polished, bright, self-assured Lorimer Black spends his work life in London prying into the events surrounding calamitous insurance claims. Frequently he discovers conspiracies: a company claiming that inventory has been stolen when in fact it has been sold on the black market to raise cash for a failing concern, or a hopelessly-in-debt firm using a fire to bail itself out. Suave Lorimer, traveling with an attache case full of cash, gently reveals his discoveries, gets the (most often hopelessly amateurish) conspirators to admit their actions—and settles the claim for far less than its face value. He's a rising star in his business, but one relentlessly shadowed by duplicities of his own: his real name is Milomre Blocj, he's the descendant of gypsies driven from Eastern Europe, and he's pursuing a hopeless infatuation with a wary model, married to a violently possessive husband. The levels of falsehoods in his life (he's even invented an appropriately old-school-tie past) have driven him to insomnia—and to the wonderfully named Institute of Lucid Dreams for a cure. Matters come to a head when Lorimer/Milo keeps probing into the curious events surrounding the torching of a luxury hotel under construction. His investigations, handled with vigorous detail by Boyd, eventually reveal a large (and believable) conspiracy set in motion by Dirk Van Meer, a gnomish, jolly, lethalpowerbroker. Along the way, Boyd nicely skewers a variety of hustlers, from upper-class twits to the oily Van Meer to Lorimer's zestfully thuggish boss, Hogg. His portrait of the hopelessly divided Milo/Lorimer is unsparingly sharp and droll. And his depiction of the manner in which Milo eventually reinvents himself, and defies the cabal, seems both right and moving. A harsh, witty, resonant novel, and an impressive work.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

William Boyd’s first novel, A Good Man in Africa, won a Whitbread Prize and a Somerset Maugham Award; his second, An Ice-Cream War, was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and The Blue Afternoon won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction. Boyd lives in London.

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Armadillo 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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