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Ordinary thunderstorms by William Boyd
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Ordinary thunderstorms (original 2009; edition 2009)

by William Boyd

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Member:alexbolding
Title:Ordinary thunderstorms
Authors:William Boyd
Info:London : Bloomsbury, 2009.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:London

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Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd (2009)

2010 (13) 2011 (7) 21st century (8) ARC (5) audio (4) British (11) British fiction (5) contemporary (5) crime (14) ebook (4) England (12) English (5) English literature (8) fiction (106) identity (9) Kindle (6) literature (6) London (41) murder (9) mystery (18) novel (22) read (5) read in 2010 (8) Roman (8) Scotland (4) suspense (4) thriller (37) to-read (12) UK (4) unread (6)
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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Six-word review: Inventive thriller explores questions of identity.

Extended review:

Getting by outside the system, living an undocumented life in the Information Age, is a theme that has interested me since long before the advent of the Internet. From time to time I've even considered the idea attractive and read with a tinge of envy about those who have done it, or nearly done it. So I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this novel: an innocent man, framed by circumstances, is believed to have committed a murder and goes underground to evade not only the police but the real killers.

Adam Kindred has come to London to begin a new life following a major setback in the personal and professional spheres. The new life he gets is not the one he sought. Instead, a chance encounter puts him in possession of a file containing information that will fatally compromise a hugely profitable pharmaceutical empire, putting his life in jeopardy with its hired thugs, while police pursue him as the suspect. How can he survive, alone, friendless, without resources, while powerful interests are determined to suppress what he knows?

You know a novel has me in its grip when I bring it out of the bedroom. An hour's bedtime reading per night wasn't enough for this thriller: I just had to see what happened next, so I spent several hours on the sofa with it two days running, preempting my current living room reading.

Now, I won't deny that this book has a number of apparent flaws, the main one being overindulgence in the development of an extensive network of secondary characters. In several cases their stories are more in the nature of digressions than they are essential to furthering plot or characterization; for example, I see no relevance in the dialogue between a prostitute and her customer about whether to take a vacation together, and not much in the details of how a young woman keeps her little boy drowsy and tractable or a business executive ruminates on his underwear. Yet I'm happy to overlook such arguably loose elements of structure because those asides are interesting. Likewise, Boyd's vision of how his protagonist adapts to his circumstances and builds relationships that affect his future course may have more than a little of the implausible about it, but as (presumably) speculative fiction it is highly entertaining. To the extent that his depiction of the forces of menace might be realistic, I'm duly chilled by the thought that anyone I care about might ever have to disappear deliberately.

In fact, I was somewhat surprised by my own inclination to be forgiving toward mistakes of the very sort that I tend to judge harshly in other works; for instance, failure to distinguish between "infer" and "imply"; some evident confusion about commas; a misrendering of "biceps" as "bicep" (coincidentally noted in Dark Fire, reviewed here just a few days ago, and not with any leniency); and a misuse of rebound where he plainly meant redound ("its success would rebound hugely in his and Calenture-Deutz's favour" - page 302). What this point suggests to me is that my degree of impatience with defects depends significantly on my overall pleasure or displeasure with the book and not the other way around.

One of the aspects of this novel that pleased me, and this may just be a matter of my peculiar taste, is the odd and even borderline bizarre names that he gives to his characters. Here's a sampling:

Ingram Fryzer
Mhouse and Ly-on
Jonjo Case
Yemi Thompson-Gbeho
Primo Belem

Extraordinary names such as these draw attention to themselves. Indeed, the name of the focal character caught my eye almost at once: Adam Kindred, Adam-father-of-us-all Kindred-related. This name tags him as a candidate for Everyman. Is there something allegorical about this novel? Certainly there is something fantastic about it, something that invites us to look beyond literal meanings and ask what the author is really doing.

In this connection we can't overlook the opening. The first two paragraphs address the reader directly, the first words being "Let us start with the river"--the river, a fertile metaphor as old as literature. After the establishment shot, the second paragraph zooms the lens: "There he is--look--" and a voice-over foreshadows the volcanic upheaval that is about to occur in the young man's life. And then the author abandons this cinematic conceit, but not before we've heard an echo of an ancient literary tradition, of Greek drama, of Shakespeare, of "Listen, my children, and you shall hear," and even of the familiar storyteller's voice in an older generation of modern fiction that predates MFA programs and writers' workshop cautions against "author intrusion."

Thus alerted by two prominent markers, I soon found a third signpost in the name of the drug at the root of the conflict into which Adam has been drawn: Zembla-4. This is an overt allusion to Nabokov's Pale Fire, a 1962 poem-cum-novel* whose focal character is, or believes he is, or appears to be, an exiled king living in disguise under the name Charles Kinbote. Zembla is the name of his troubled homeland. The resemblance of Kindred to Kinbote, both characters living under assumed identities and in fear for their lives, can hardly be coincidental.

Are these references intended simply as an homage to Nabokov, complete with a minor but pivotal character named Vladimir, or do they signify something more?

When Jonjo Case sits down to a newspaper puzzle involving anagrams, I suddenly remembered that anagramming was a favorite game of Nabokov's and that he often used such sly verbal devices to conceal clues to hidden meanings and connections in his novels. Immediately I set about anagramming all those weird character names, using the help of an online tool to make a thorough job of it. I didn't fail to include Rita Nashe, a normal enough name but with an unnecessary e that might be there to fill out another word with rearranged letters. I came up with nothing. Perhaps Boyd is just playing with his story and with us, dropping these tidbits because he can, but I suspect that I have missed other dimensions.

I'm unable to answer my own questions. Like the novel itself, I'm leaving some loose ends, threads that may tie up in the future--what will happen when Rita learns more? whom will the river bring back, and what will happen when it does? who, after all, is Adam Everyman? and what will surface as I reflect further on this uncommon narrative? Perhaps the questions are the point.


So--I brought the book out of the bedroom to read it faster. I looked kindly upon the flaws. I pondered its subtleties. And then I made haste to acquire the author's next title, Waiting for Sunrise. That's how you know it was a winner with me.

-----
*Review of Pale Fire:
http://www.librarything.com/work/7714/reviews/80056936
  ( )
2 vote Meredy | Jan 29, 2014 |
Adam Kindred was in London for a job interview when he unexpectedly comes across a man who has been critically stabbed and tries to help. The man dies and Adam thinks he needs to go on the run or else the police will think he did it. I didn’t really believe he had to run but was able to put that aside and enjoy the interesting and sometimes dangerous people and situations he got involved in. I liked the story until the end when things were left too up in the air for me. ( )
  gaylebutz | Aug 26, 2013 |
This was the second time that very I have read this very enjoyable novel. Though not, quite soaring up to the stratospheric heights of William Boyd's previous novel "Restless" nor as flawless as "Any Human Heart", this was still utterly engrossing, and demonstrated an intimate knowledge of the various reaches of the Thames. Indeed, the plot proved almost as sinuous as the river itself.

The novel opens with Adam Kindred, a leading academic climatologist, emerging from an interview for an appointment at one of the leading London universities and going for a meal in a nearby restaurant. There he finds himself sitting next to Dr Philip Wang, a pharmacologist engaged in the quest for a cure for asthma. They chat briefly and then Wang departs. However, Adam notices that he has dropped a file of papers. Finding Wang's business card in the file he phones him, and arranges to take the forgotten papers around to the nearby flat Wang is staying in. When he arrives there he finds the door already open and, walking in he find that Wang is on the point of death having just been stabbed. Adam then notices that the flat has also been ransacked. Hearing a noise outside he flees, but not before he foolishly attempts to remove withdraw the knife that is still stuck in Wang's side, thus leaving his fingerprints behind.

From that point on Adam finds himself leading the life of a fugitive, pursued by the police but also by the actual murderer. Having nowehere to turn he takes to living rough, and displays considerable ingenuity in carving out a new life on the streets of London. Menawhile the actual murderer is hunting him down, anxious to retrieve the file that Adam was still holding when he fled Wang's flat.

Meanwhile we are introduced to Ingram Fryzer, CEO of Calenture-Deutz, the pharmaceutical firm for which Wang had been working. Fryzer has his own problems as he finds that he is suffering from sudden short-lived but intense pains while he also fleetingly, and gradually more frequently, loses control of his vocabulary.

Ranging from the affluence of Chelsea to pockets of extreme deprivation in the East End, and taking in a range of uber-businessmen, contract killers, new age evangelists, prostitutes and police officers the plot constantly changes direction but never falters.This book definitely rewards the reader! ( )
1 vote Eyejaybee | Apr 5, 2013 |
This is a story about falling from grace. What happens when all money, safety, power are stripped away overnight, by mistake. How do people survive? To what lengths will they go? How does one build a new identity and a new life. All of these questions are addressed in the midst of a murder/suspense novel. Well done, William Boyd, well done! ( )
1 vote hemlokgang | Mar 23, 2013 |
Possibly mild spoilers about the nature of the ending

Climatologist Adam Kindred is moving back to England and has just had a job interview at Imperial College. Wanting to clear his head afterward, he goes for a walk along the river by the Embankment, then dines at an Italian restaurant. He chats with a fellow solitary diner, a business type who accidentally leaves his files behind. Adam goes to return the files, and his life will never be the same again.

I heard about this book through the BBC Book at Bedtime; didn't listen to the broadcast, but saw it in the list of episodes, and what attracted me was the London setting, specifically the Chelsea area. The first part of the book was therefore my favourite because it was set there. The story as a whole wasn't *too* unrealistic and goofy, as some thrillers can be. In fact, quite the opposite, at least where the ending was concerned. The main story arc was satisfactorily resolved but enough loose ends were left to allow speculation as to what might happen next.

As for the characters, Adam made a fairly likeable and resourceful protagonist, adapting quickly to new situations and making the most of whatever opportunities presented themselves. And even the antagonists had some element of humanity: for example, Jonjo and his basset hound, The Dog.

That being said, though, there were quite a few characters to keep track of, and it became exhausting after a while. The viewpoints switch fairly often, so it's not as though you're stuck with one character for too long, but sometimes there was just enough of a gap between segments of a character's story for me to wonder who they were when they came up again. So I would perhaps suggest reading this in multiple sittings (because it's a big book) over not too long a time period (to make sure you can keep track of everyone).

Overall, this was a good book and it met whatever nebulous expectations I had of it. I'd consider trying another book by this author. ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Dec 4, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
That's what I thought when I finished it. I thought, "It's not the way a thriller writer would do it." But I thought fair dos, he's trying to do something different. It's not something that I would necessarily criticise him for.
 
This is an uneven novel. Yet Boyd’s restless inventiveness sustained me throughout and the ending proved satisfying, not least because Boyd doesn’t resolve the plot fully. He lets some stories flow beyond the last page, like the Thames.
added by Shortride | editBloomberg, James Pressley (Sep 25, 2009)
 
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Epigraph
Ordinary thunderstorms have the capacity to transform themselves into multi-cell storms of ever growing complexity. Such multi-cell storms display a marked increase in severity and their lifetime can be extended by a factor of ten or more. The grandfather of all thunderstorms, however, is the super-cell thunderstorm. It should be noted that even ordinary thunderstorms are capable of mutating into super-cell storms. These storms subside very slowly.
--Storm Dynamics and Hail Cascades
by L. D. Sax and W. S. Dutton
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For Susan
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Let us start with the river - all things begin with the river and we shall probably end there, no doubt - but let's wait and see how we go.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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One May evening in London, Adam Kindred, a young climatologist in town for a job interview, is feeling good about the future as he sits down for a meal at a little Italian bistro. He strikes up a conversation with a solitary diner at the next table, who leaves soon afterward. With horrifying speed, this chance encounter leads to a series of malign accidents, through which Adam loses everything—home, family, friends, job, reputation, passport, credit cards, cell phone—never to get them back.

The police are searching for him. There is a reward for his capture. A hired killer is stalking him. He is alone and anonymous in a huge, pitiless modern city. Adam has nowhere to go but down—underground. He decides to join that vast army of the disappeared and the missing who throng London’s lowest levels as he tries to figure out what to do with his life and struggles to understand the forces that have made it unravel so spectacularly. Adam’s quest will take him all along the river Thames, from affluent Chelsea to the gritty East End, and on the way he will encounter all manner of London’s denizens—aristocrats, prostitutes, evangelists, and policewomen—and version after new version of himself.
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Adam Kindred is in London for a job interview and looking at a bright future. Then he has a chance meeting in a restaurant that results in a series of actions that cost him his family, his money, his very identity. Utterly alone, Adam joins London's underground society of dispossessed and tries to figure out what happened to his life.… (more)

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