The New Confessions: A Novel

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Overview

In this extraordinary novel, William Boyd presents the autobiography of John James Todd, whose uncanny and exhilarating life as one of the most unappreciated geniuses of the twentieth century is equal parts Laurence Stern, Charles Dickens, Robertson Davies, and Saul Bellow, and a hundred percent William Boyd.  

From his birth in 1899, Todd was doomed. Emerging from his angst-filled childhood, he rushes into the throes of the twentieth century on the Western Front ...

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The New Confessions: A Novel

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Overview

In this extraordinary novel, William Boyd presents the autobiography of John James Todd, whose uncanny and exhilarating life as one of the most unappreciated geniuses of the twentieth century is equal parts Laurence Stern, Charles Dickens, Robertson Davies, and Saul Bellow, and a hundred percent William Boyd.  

From his birth in 1899, Todd was doomed. Emerging from his angst-filled childhood, he rushes into the throes of the twentieth century on the Western Front during the Great War, and quickly changes his role on the battlefield from cannon fodder to cameraman. When he becomes a prisoner of war, he discovers Rousseau's Confessions, and dedicates his life to bringing the memoir to the silver screen. Plagued by bad luck and blind ambition, Todd becomes a celebrated London upstart, a Weimar luminary, and finally a disgruntled director of cowboy movies and the eleventh member of the Hollywood Ten. Ambitious and entertaining, Boyd has invented a most irresistible hero.

The autobiography of a fictional genius in the 20th century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An entertaining and darkly comic novel, a novel given weight and ballast by the pressure of recent history."  —The New York Times

"Here is the rarest of books, the sort you want to read again—even before you've finished it the first time. . . . Boyd gives us a magnificent experience." —People

"Boyd has created an important and complex character in a vividly evoked series of settings. . . . He has written a subtle and provocative history of our time." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Entertaining and intellectually engaging." —Time

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
John James Todd, the tenacious, reflective, wise, ambitious, romantic filmmaker and adventurer who is the narrator of Boyd's (A Good Man in Africa, An Ice Cream War) fourth novel, is not a real personexcept that Boyd delightfully makes him so in this ribald ``autobiography'' based in spirit on Rousseau's Confessions, that posthumously published ``enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete will have no imitator.'' Looking back on his life from a villa on the French Riviera in 1972, the Scottish Todd (born in 1899 to a mother wholike Rousseau'sdied at the moment of his birth) recalls events from his Edinburgh childhood and through the 1950s. He is introduced to the Confessions while a prisoner of war during WW I (the guard who procures it for him is a German actor and they remain friends) and its themes continue to haunt him. Todd is variously a doorman in Berlin in the '20s; a celebrated filmmaker in that city; a failed filmmaker of westerns once silent movies disappear; a foreign correspondent for several of the most unimportant newspapers west of the Mississippi during WW II; and a blacklisted filmmaker in Hollywood in the '50s. He fathers four children but is not a family man. Todd's greatest achievement is a technically adventurous, five-hour version of the first part of Rousseau's autobiography, starring Karl-Heinz Kornfield, his former guard. As Todd describes his work on this silent film, we become convinced that we have seen it; his other films are similarly vivid. So too are Todd himself and his lovers, friends and enemies. (Like Rousseau, he is unsparing in exposing his own flaws, and sometimes his callousness is chilling.) Todd's eloquent philosophic asides on how chance and circumstance, rather than simply will, shape an individual's destiny, reflect the masterful way Boyd allows Todd to tell his magnificent story. For while he gives his imagination free reign, the author exerts an impressive control, shaping the anecdotes for deeper understanding of Todd's character. $75,000 ad/promo; BOMC featured alternate; author tour. (May)
Library Journal
$18.95. f Early in life John James Todd, forgotten hero of the cinematic avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, is advised, ``Make your own rut. It's the only way.'' Throughout a long and tempestuous life, Todd remains true to his artistic vision, from his first movies of the Great War to the last B-westerns 30 years later. The capstone of his career is a five-hour, three-screen version of Rousseau's Confessions ; it appears just as talkies arrive on the scene, eliminating the audience for his one undiluted masterpiece. Vain and impulsive, undisciplined in all save his work, Todd is spiritual heir to his beloved JeanJacques. Better than either the prize-winning A Good Man in Africa ( LJ 5/1/82) or An Ice Cream War ( LJ 4/15/83), this novel shows Boyd's considerable ability as storyteller and the rich comic sense that infuses his work with life. David Keymer, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Utica
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375705038
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 649,470
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.99 (d)

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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