A new William Boyd book is always a significant publishing event as he is one of Britain’s most popular novelists and you do not know what to expect.
In a writing career that early on embraced drole colonialism in West Africa but has included espionage and a broad sweep of a life by journal in Any Human Heart, it is typical of him that the last fiction before this should centre on a Victorian piano tuner suffering from tuberculosis and this is on a film shot in Brighton in 1968.
Its title Trio derives from the three main characters: Anny Viklund is a beautiful young film actress succumbing to the pressures of stardom: Talbot Kydd the producer is bisexual and he has not only to deal with the travails of making a film, the chicanery of his business film producer partner but also an overture to a male scaffolder that goes wrong.
Finally there is the alcoholic Elfrida Wing a writer suffering from writer’s block hoping to write her next novel based on the suicide of Virginia Woolf.
Boyd, a scriptwriter himself, clearly understands the film business.
Whether it’s his partner shafting him over the film rights, or the disappearance of some film stock stolen to make a porn film, or the feuding of the cast. he knows the details.
I could not say the same for his sense of location. I remember Brighton in the late sixties as we would go there en famille.
I recall its louche atmosphere, the two piers, the mods and rockers and the grand actors and actresses – like Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson, Frank Finlay and Dora Bryan eating their kippers on the Brighton Belle – who had homes there.
I had read Brighton Rock and Keith Waterhouse’s Palace Pier with its memorable description
“Brighton is helping the police with its enquiries.”
Simply Boyd has not got it but there is enough humour and plot to sustain a good read.