I have read quite some books by William Boyd, and I like them a lot. This one I found rather disappointing. The main character remains flat, selfish and unsympathetic. Of course, Boyd has tried to equal Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had a comparable biography and character. But Boyd's effort to write an equivalent of Rousseau's Confessions, has failed for me. I had to force myself to go on reading.
The 1770 tell-all autobiography “Confessions” by French philosopher J.J. Rousseau (1712-78) underpins, inspires, even mirrors much of the life story of Scotsman J.J. Todd (1899-1972?), ‘who killed his mother at birth’ and was never loved by his dad and elder brother. He comes into possession of the book while imprisoned in Germany as a POW during WW I. How? Via a prison guard. The two will remain friends and colleagues forever, with Todd as film director, Karl-Heinz as movie actor. Todd’s lifelong, searing ambition is to turn “Confessions” into an epoch-making movie... Greatly enjoyed every page of this doorstopper-sized novel about a fictional character’s development from a quasi-orphan into a minor maths prodigy, then wartime photographer and struggling director. William Boyd is a great story-teller with immense descriptive powers. Every scene is authentic, no matter where: trench warfare during WW I, Berlin in the 1920’s and early 1930s, then 1946, Hollywood during the McCarthy era, his later Mediterranean recluse, and countless other venues. Wonderfully-plotted and firmly staying in control, Boyd has created a self-confessed impulsive character living by his wits, often subject to forces beyond his control. Rich novel for fans of philosophy, 20th century mathematics, silent movies and everyone else interested in reading about the human condition in a brilliant book covering the gamut of emotions: desire, love, hate, fear, indifference, betrayal, paranoia, and so on... Strong finish. Highly recommended.