As you may have noticed if you have been paying attention round here recently, I am completely in love with William Boyd, or at least with his writing since I have not had the pleasure of meeting him in person. This is the latest I have read, and I enjoyed it just as much as the other two, which were Waiting for Sunrise and Ordinary Thunderstorms.
One of the things that disappoints me the most when I read a novel is predictability. Well, there's no danger of that with Boyd. Each of the books I have read this year has been entirely different from the others, but also each has had a wonderful ability to be constantly taking you by surprise, in the best possible way.
Armadillo is the story of Lorimer Black, an attractive and intelligent young man who works as a loss adjuster for a large insurance company. I'm not sure if before I read this I would have been able to tell you what a loss adjuster does, but I now know that they are employed by the insurers to, basically, beat down the client's claim. That is what has happened at the beginning of the novel, and Lorimer is off to hand over the rather reduced sum to the claimant. When he arrives, though, he discovers that the man has hanged himself. Not a good start to Lorimer's day, and things rapidly go from bad to worse. Soon he has gone from being his boss's flavour of the month to a much maligned scapegoat, the girl he has fallen in love with is playing him around shockingly, the elderly titled lady he shares his Pimlico house with has died and left him her ancient dog, he has acquired an appalling lodger who drinks all his whiskey and borrows his clothes, the girlfriend he needs to break up with wants him to move to Guildford and start a fish farm, someone has poured acid over his nice car, and lots more besides. And that's not to mention his family -- for Lorimer Black started life as Milomne Blokj, the youngest member of a family of Central European gypsies who live in a massively overheated flat in Fulham and spend most of their time cooking and eating enormous lumps of meat. The only member of the family who Lorimer has any real feeling for is his father, but sadly he has spent the last ten years in a semi-vegitative state, though carefully washed, dressed and exercised by his various daughters, all of whom constantly "borrow" money from their little brother Milo whenever he visits.
This is in fact a very funny novel, but it also has some serious issues to raise. Not least, of course, is the questionable ethics of Lorimer's job, which has made his comfortably well off but which, as he comes more and more to realise, has done so at the expense of some very questionable dealings. As for Lorimer himself, he is a joy -- a raging insomniac, totally confused for most of the time about just about everything he has to deal with in his work and his social life, he blunders on, trying to do the best he can in increasingly difficult circumstances. By the end, though I don't want to give too much away, he has lost a good deal of what he once had, but is adjusting to it fairly well -- he is, after all, a loss adjuster. And in fact the ending is notable for its lack of closure, something I am particularly fond of though I know it annoys some people no end.
I need hardly say that I am recommending this very highly. More Boyd coming my way soon -- very exciting.