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Love is Blind

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In the TLS's recent Booker 50th anniversary edition, various past winners were asked about underrated authors that should have featured more in the prize's reckoning. Like the music his brilliant if drunken keyboard virtuoso is describing, the narrative never veers from the expected; even its twists fit into well-worn grooves.

Nevertheless, Boyd’s drama builds powerfully towards its ending, when at last Brodie arrives in the Bay of Bengal, and where he unwittingly mouths (in German) some of Chekhov’s own words.

I don’t think of him as either gangling or clumsy, and he’s clearly very bright and good at organising things and managing people. The story is somewhat of a picaresque, moving to many countries, where Brodie meets various people as he pursues Lida, vying for her competing attentions. The second half kind of trailed off, and pointless characters entered the story with no real connection to what was happening, and nothing new to bring to the table.

I felt the strong emotional turmoil this man faced, both in his early family life and his later years as he struggled to gain a grip over his unattainable object of affection. He takes us to the gloomy Scottish countryside and the Mediterranean shores of Nice, enveloping the reader in a time in European history when horses are being replaced by cars, women still have few choices, and men can settle their feuds without the interference of law. It means that he can escape the clutches of his unbearably grotesque, hypocrital and bullying preacher father, Malky. Its rowan- and yew-dotted cemetery was crowded with ancient graves, former parishioners, the late, good folk of the Liethen Valley.It is inevitable that the towering success of Any Human Heart will define the rest of his career – and many might miss the quirky, low-key comedy of his earlier novels – but this fine, touching and clever book is the best thing he’s written since and deserves similar adulation. At the age of nine years he attended Gordonstoun school, in Moray, Scotland and then Nice University (Diploma of French Studies) and Glasgow University (MA Hons in English and Philosophy), where he edited the Glasgow University Guardian.

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