Book Reviews

Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay by William Boyd

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List Price: £7.99


Paperback: 464 Pages.

Published: 05 May 2016 by Bloomsbury Paperbacks

Edition: 01

ISBN: 1408867990

EAN: 9781408867990

Amory's first memory is of her father doing a handstand. She has memories of him returning on leave during the First World War. But his absences, both actual and emotional, are what she chiefly remembers. It is her photographer uncle Greville who supplies the emotional bond she needs, and, when he gives her a camera and some rudimentary lessons in photography, unleashes a passion that will irrevocably shape her future.

A spell at boarding school ends abruptly and Amory begins an apprenticeship with Greville in London, living in his flat in Kensington, earning two pounds a week photographing socialites for fashionable magazines. But Amory is hungry for more and her search for life, love and artistic expression will take her to the demi monde of Berlin of the late 1920s, to New York of the 1930s, to the Blackshirt riots in London and to France in the Second World War where she becomes one of the first women war photographers. Her desire for experience will lead Amory to further wars, to lovers, husbands and children as she continues to pursue her dreams and battle her demons.


3.0 Stars3.0 Stars3.0 Stars  by Anne

A Life in Photography

This novel is the fictional autobiography of a female photographer during the twentieth century. Amory Clay is unusual in her occupation for the time and sees many of the great events of the century as she photographs them including war, especially in Vietnam. The book follows her life and career but it concentrates on certain periods such as when she is first starting out and her relationships with the significant men in her life. This does mean that there are long periods in the life that are skated over or omitted altogether whilst others are given a lot of space - it didn't seem clear why that was so and why those periods were of more significance than others.The author tackles lots of issues such as the growing emancipation of women, attitudes to homosexuality, photography as art, and even what constitutes pornography. The paperback edition I read also included some photographs although they weren't reproduced well and seemed quite arbitrary - I am not sure that they added much to the reading experience.

It is unusual for a male author to write a whole book in a female voice and I have no problems with that. I did find, however, that I didn't always identify with Amory as female. She seemed in a lot of ways to come across in a more male way. It is difficult to explain this and I am very well aware that women are very different from one another but to me she wasn't always believable especially in how she related to the men with whom she had relationships. This may be my fault but I didn't find that the way she was written made me identify with her as a character.

I like the diary format and I love the idea of following a whole life that way. The problem with this novel is that I have already read "Any Human Heart" where the same author did exactly the same things with a male character who was an art critic and collector. It seemed a bit like William Boyd had left some historical events out of the previous book and wanted to write about them so this book filled in the gaps. This may be unfair but all the way through this book I was thinking that I had read this book before even if the story, characters and viewpoint were different. This book says nothing new about a long life in the arts and the change of sex of the main character didn't add enough to make the story very different.

It seems a shame only to give this book three stars because if I had read it first I would probably have given it four but if you read it having already known and loved "Any Human Heart" you become aware that it isn't really of the same calibre and thus is quite disappointing.

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