I always read a William Boyd novel after publication – I am not alone as he is one of our most popular writers. Yet he is hard to classify. You could say he is a humorous author, which he is, but he writes espionage too. One of my favourites Any Human Heart is an account of a rich life, well lived through the journals of the subject Logan Mountstuart. Boyd is an academic but does not write those funny university novels like Malcolm Bradbury, Kingsley Amis and David Lodge.
The Dreams of Bettany Mellmoth are a collection of short stories. The title is the longest though in my view not the best. Bethany Mellmoth is a 24 year old metro whose relationships are disasters like those of her divorced parents. Boyd fails to get under the skin of a 24 year old and I found her personality as irritating as it was lacking in cred. Better was the first story on an amoral art dealer who, after deceiving new client with the old ploy of underselling a purchase knowing a client who will pay far more, falls in love with her. Sexual attraction and its disastrous consequences is a common theme of the collection. The final story – with more than nod to Geoffrey Household and John Buchan – is a fast moving page-turner of a failed actor who acts as a carrier of something illicit. I compared it to the last 2 writers but there is something Hitchcockian of someone who is overtaken by events he does not fathomed has to deal with the consequences. “I don’t know what happened” could be said by the reader too as Boyd fails to tie up the loose ends.
Short stories can be an unsatisfying genre. There is not the time to develop a character or plot. Elizabeth Stroute in Olive Ketteridge gets around this by introducing her in every story. Some characters do reappear, Yves Hill the auhor and Fernando Benn the photographer, but the stories are stand alone. Boyd is not on the level of Maugham, Maupassant or William Trevor but he has written a collection of stories that will satisfy his loyal readership.