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Sweet Caress by William Boyd
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Sweet Caress (2015)

by William Boyd

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Born into a dysfunctional upper middle-class family, Amory Clay's early life revolves around her father. When he tries to commit suicide and has a breakdown, Amory relies on her uncle Greville. Rejecting university, Amory becomes a photographer and the story follows her life through a series of events and relationships. Amory visits Berlin in the early thirties, moves to New York, then Paris during and after the war picking up lovers and experiences. After working in Vietnam Amory retires to the Scottish countryside and reflects on her life.
I have long been a fan of William Boyd's writing. He is an accomplished writer whose work sits somewhere between high literature and popular fiction in that it is both enjoyable to read and not too demanding but also tackles difficult questions. Here the reader is asked to question their views about war (there are three wars that affect the narrative) and also about the ending of life through suicide (again there are three characters involved). However reading the book, one doesn't initially look at the big picture as one is just relishing a really good story that is well told. This is the best sort of fiction, it doesn't preach, it doesn't try to make life hard for the reader through the use of obscure or overly complicated language, but it does leave the reader asking questions of themselves afterwards. A master at the peak of his powers. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jun 26, 2017 |
A journey through the 20th century in the company of one person, a feisty but otherwise not particularly exceptional woman. Or rather, exceptional in a minor key. Sweet Caress bears obvious similarities to Any Human Heart and, in my view, suffers from the comparison. It is just a little bit too low key, too ordinary. If Amory Clay is warmer and more vital than Logan Mountstuart she comes across somehow as more domestic in spite of her less than domestic life story. Having said that, Boyd is a great storyteller who knows and understands the world he portrays, inviting us to join him in it with a warmth and enthusiasm it is hard to turn away from. 6 January 2017. ( )
  alanca | Jan 10, 2017 |
“Sweet caress” is an absorbing novel, tracing one woman’s life through most of the twentieth century. Amory Clay, towards the end of her life, reflects on the events and emotions that have shaped her. Her early struggles in the 1920s for a woman to be accepted as a photographer are vividly recalled and her notorious first exhibition of work leads to self-doubts but ultimately to a breakthrough in her career and to establishment as a sought-after photographer.
Her changing relationships with her family, lovers and work colleagues lead to a greater understanding of Amory and for her; they lead to a clearer view of those around her. Even her darker periods demonstrate her ability to recover from adversity and setbacks. The writing is a delight and the accompanying photographs that are a record of her work are an extra touch.
  camharlow2 | Oct 3, 2016 |
The story of a woman who repeatedly defies social morays and finds herself photographing her way through history . ( )
  hemlokgang | Sep 10, 2016 |
Excellent story telling focusing on the life of Amory Clay, a female photographer. Engrossing from beginning to end. ( )
  sianpr | Aug 29, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Quelle que soit la durée de votre séjour sur cette petite planète, et quoi qu’il vous advienne, le plus important c’est que vous puissiez – de temps en temps – sentir la caresse exquise de la vie.
(However long your stay on this small planet lasts, and whatever happens during it, the most important thing is that – from time to time – you feel life’s sweet caress.)
Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, Avis de passage (1957)
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PROLOGUE
What drew me down there, I wonder, to the edge of the garden?
There was a mistake made on the day I was born, when I come to think of it.
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"When Amory Clay was born, in the decade before the Great War, her disappointed father gave her an androgynous name and announced the birth of a son. But this daughter was not one to let others define her; Amory became a woman who accepted no limits to what that could mean, and, from the time she picked up her first camera, one who would record her own version of events. Moving freely between London and New York, between photojournalism and fashion photography, and between the men who love her on complicated terms, Amory establishes her reputation as a risk taker and a passionate life traveler. Her hunger for experience draws her to the decadence of Weimar Berlin and the violence of London's blackshirt riots, to the Rhineland with Allied troops and into the political tangle of war-torn Vietnam. In her ambitious career, the seminal moments of the 20th century will become the unforgettable moments of her own biography, as well. In Sweet Caress, Amory Clay comes wondrously to life, her vibrant personality enveloping the reader from the start. And, running through the novel, her photographs over the decades allow us to experience this vast story not only with Amory's voice but with her vision. William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates."--provided by publisher.… (more)

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