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William Boyd Biography

(1952– ), New Statesman, On the Yankee Station, A Good Man in Africa

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Edward Bond (Thomas Edward Bond) Biography to Bridge

British novelist, born in Accra, Ghana, educated at the universities of Nice and Glasgow, and at Jesus College, Oxford. He was a lecturer in English at St Hilda's College, Oxford (197580) and a television critic for the New Statesman (19813). On the Yankee Station (1981; revised edition 1988), a collection of stories, was followed by A Good Man in Africa (1981; Whitbread Prize), a comic novel set in an imaginary African country, and An Ice-Cream War (1982) which describes the fiasco on the Eastern African Front during the First World War. In 1983 Boyd was among the writers elected by the Book Marketing Council as a Best Young British Novelist. His next book, Stars and Bars (1984), a wryly humorous look at America from an English perspective, consolidated his reputation as a comic writer. Boyd expanded his range considerably with The New Confessions (1987), an ambitious novel dealing with themes of Art and Illusion and spanning the first seventy years of the twentieth century: from Edinburgh in the 1900s to the Western Front in 1918; from Berlin during the Weimar Republic to Hollywood in the McCarthyite era. Its central character, John James Todd, is a film-maker obsessed with the creation of a single master-work based on Rousseau's Confessions. The protagonist of Brazzaville Beach (1990) is a young scientist, Hope Clearwater, who is studying behaviour patterns in primates in Central Africa. The first-person narrative moves between the present—Hope's struggle to achieve recognition for her scientific discoveries in the face of opposition from senior colleagues—and passages set in the recent past, which deal with her disastrous marriage to a brilliant but unstable mathematician. The Blue Afternoon (1993), set in Los Angeles during the 1930s, concerned a young woman's relationship with an enigmatic stranger claiming to be her father, with whom she undertakes a journey into the past. The novel was acclaimed for its atmospheric recreation of time and place, as well as for its insights into the mind of its female protagonist—the second time Boyd had attempted to write from a woman's point of view. It was followed by a collection of short stories, The Destiny of Natalie ‘X’ and Other Stories (1995) which, like several of his novels, deals with unsatisfactory love affairs played out against a variety of different European backgrounds. After the farcical comedy of his early novels, which were strongly reminiscent of the satirical writings of E. Waugh, Boyd has established himself as a writer of lyrical, elegiac fictions, often set in the past, which deal with aspects of memory through a series of linked and overlapping narratives.

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