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A wonderful romantic thriller
am 15. April 2000
Superficially, it's tempting to pidgeonhole William Boyd's "The Blue Afternoon" as a thriller. For much of the way, you may find your heart racing and yourself thinking you can't put this down until you reach the end. But at the heart of this wonderfully entertaining novel is a romance, a romance so huge and heady it's almost redemptive in its force. The thriller elements of murder, blackmail and betrayal only create the opportunities and subtext for the great love affair to play out. Some readers may find the Salvador/Delphine affair surprising and even incredible. You wouldn't if you allow yourself the luxury of accepting Cupid's strange ways. But what's even more intriguing to me is Boyd's ability to generate a deep sense of sustained ambivalence in the treatment of his characters and their personal situations throughout the novel. You're never sure enough about any of them to rule anything out. For instance, Salvador's Filipino colleague, Pantaleon, shows a surprising side to him under pressure. Delphine also remains an enigma, right to the very end. Boyd's reluctance at a clear resolution perhaps hints at how he really wishes us to regard his novel, not as a "who dunnit" but as a sojourn with the human heart which needs Love and Romance to nourish and keep it alive. Kay, Salvador's daughter, isn't a technical devise or a red herring either. She may be an observer and peripheral to the plot which is told in flashbacks, but we are told she's one of two reasons why Salvador has managed to gain strength to survive his personal tragedy. "The Blue Afternoon" is an engaging and superbly written novel. Highly recommended reading.