Armadillo: A Novelby William Boyd
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.
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
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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