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The New Confessions by William Boyd

The New Confessions (1987)

by William Boyd

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Had to give up at the start of his WW1, first time around. I thought, maybe if I d read J J R's original this traipse through time would be more compelling. Then, while writing on Rousseau May 2014 the parallels offered by Boyd rang loud and clear and I could hardly put it down. Picaresque like Don Quixote. Weird end. The whole really adds up to nothing much but it seems as if that's the way Boyd wants to show life. A big collection of could have beens by a has-been. The protagonist is not attractive, but still, he is human and as confessional and apparently honest as Rousseau the original was. Life without a point, without God under the sun. ( )
  ted_newell | Jun 20, 2015 |
An epic autobiography of a fictional character - John James Todd, from his birth in Scotland, through his adventures in 2 World Wars, the silent film industry in Berlin in the 1920s, his blacklisting under McCarthy & his senior years in the Med. There is much that is good & gripping about this novel but it was hard to like the central character - everything is narrated through his eyes & there is very little character development of the long list of characters that come and go throughout the book. I would have liked some other perspectives but nonetheless Boyd does some excellent story telling - the part set in WW1 is particularly vivid. ( )
  sianpr | Oct 2, 2013 |
Voici l'histoire d'une vie. Ma vie. La vie d'un homme au xxe siècle. Ce que j'ai fait et ce qu'on m'a fait... » Ainsi débutent les « confessions » de John James Todd, né à Edimbourg en 1899, génie oublié du cinéma muet, aujourd'hui reclus sur une île de la Méditerranée. Avec la sérénité de l'âge — et une candeur peut-être suspecte —, Todd nous raconte l'erratique existence, qui fut la sienne. De l'Écosse de son enfance, délicieusement excentrique, au Hollywood de la « chasse aux sorcières », en passant par les tueries des Flandres pendant la Grande Guerre, la gloire et la passion dans le Berlin de la république de Weimar, la libéra¬tion de Saint-Tropez par les Alliés en 1944, Todd nous entraîne dans ses fantasques aventures, à travers les événe¬ments chaotiques de trois quarts de siècle. Le choc décisif, c'est en 1918, dans une prison allemande, qu'il s'est produit, à la lecture des Confessions de Jean-Jacques Rousseau. John James, Jean-Jacques : les identités se brouil¬lent et se confondent. Pour Todd, tirer des Confessions le plus grand film de l'histoire deviendra l'obsession qui commandera sa vie. « Oui, je me suis acquitté pleinement de ce rôle d'être humain. John James Todd, me dis-je à moi-même, te voilà enfin en accord avec l'univers. » Cette conclusion semble avoir été soufflée par son frère genevois au narrateur de ces Nouvel-les Confessions, qui, franches ou cyniques, sont en tout cas d'une exquise drôlerie.
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
The New Confessions preceded Any Human Heart by a couple of decades (both in authorship and setting), but there are clear parallels between the two. Both are written as the memoirs of elderly men looking back on their lives; both men have had remarkably varied lives, following a numbers of careers and living in several countries; both are transients, their lives battered by the traumatic history of the 20th Century; both men describe their lives with all their faults on display; both suffer from doomed true love, but enjoy other relationships and friendships, but ultimately, the survivors of what they live through, are left alone. The books also share one character - Land Fothergill - who is incidental in the New Confessions, but more significant in Any Human Heart. Like it's successor, the New Confessions is a modern masterpiece, sparingly written, but rich in the essential information, written in an absorbing style. With the exception of the disappointing Armadillo, Boyd must be one of the greatest British authors of recent decades, a superb storyteller as well an eloquent writer. ( )
  YossarianXeno | Feb 6, 2012 |
Another winner from William Boyd!
This novel follows the life of John James Todd, sometime soldier, reporter, writer and, principally, film director. Born in Edinburgh and educated in the Scottish Borders Todd runs away from his somewhat cold family life and, following a series of misunderstandings, signs up to serve in the First World War.
He survives the carnage of Ypres, collecting a few minor injuries on the way, but finds himself captured behind German lines following a bizarre mishap featuring a hot air balloon. While a prisoner of war he befriends one of his guards, Karl-Heinz Kornfeld, who promises to find him an English book to read. As it happens the only English book to hand is a translation of the "Confessions" of eighteenth century philosopher and general roustabout Jean Jacques Rousseau. Todd is immediately enchanted by this work, which will determine the course of the rest of his life.
After various tribulations Todd returns to Germany in the 1920s and becomes established as a film director, and manages to complete an epic film covering the first third of Rousseau's confessions, in which Kornfeld takes the leading role.
As Hitler takes power, and as the horror of the Third Reich begins to manifest itself, Todd relocates to America, where he joins the Anti-Nazi League. He also manages, in farcical circumstances, to aggravate Monroe Smee, a minor agent loitering in the fringes of the film industry.
Following the war Todd finds himself vilified as a Communist during the McCarthyite crusades. Blacklisted he relocates to Europe, where he starts to write his own memoirs, and begins to unravel the various misdaventures that have befallen him.
There are interesting resonances with Boyd's other works, and in particular "Any Human Heart". For instance, one of the films produced by the company for whom Todd works is based upon a novel by Land Fothergill, who was an early flame of Logan Mountstuart in the latter novel. The format is similar, too, with Todd occasionally attempting a profit and loss analysis of his life to date.
And, just like "Any Human Heart", this novel is entirely engrossing.
I first read it back in 1988 just after its initial publication, and it has not lost any of its magic in the intervening years. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jul 5, 2011 |
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My first act on entering this world was to kill my mother.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140106995, Paperback)

"The New Confessions" is the outrageous, extraordinary, hilarious and heartbreaking autobiography of John James Todd, a Scotsman born in 1899 and one of the great self-appointed (and failed) geniuses of the twentieth century. 'An often magnificent feat of story-telling and panoramic reconstruction...John James Todd's reminiscences carry us through the ups and downs of a long and lively career that begins in genteel Edinburgh, devastatingly detours out to the Western Front, forks off, after a period of cosy family life in London, to the electric excitements of the Berlin film-world of the Twenties, then moves on to Hollywood...to ordeal by McCarthyism and eventual escape to Europe' - Peter Kemp, "Observer".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:56 -0400)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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