24 March 2012

Library Limelights 4


William Boyd. Armadillo. London: Viking, 1998.
The Boyd repertoire is not exhausted yet, ins'allah. Although this one was not his funniest or most conundrum-ish. Nevertheless, you just know that a story with women called Dymphna and Barbuda has a hidden agenda. Successful and likeable man with a touch of hapless, so good at his specialized job, learns about corporate fraud, greed, and scapegoats in his industry. He's developed a second skin over his immigrant origins--origins of murky Romany-Bessarabian flavour. (Old family saying: When you eat the honey do you ask the bee to show you the flower?) What he's missing in the business world is a top layer of protective armour. A hallmark Boyd conclusion ensues.

So many gems; here's one:
Imagine some ancient fragments of stone unearthed in the desert, eroded, windblasted, sunbleached, upon which can be discerned some cryptic, runic lettering in a forgotten alphabet. Upon such tablets of stone might have been incised the history of my family, for the effort of deciphering them, of reconstructing meaning, has proved almost impossible to attain. Some years ago I embarked on months of dogged questioning of my mother and grandmother which allowed the story to advance a little further, but it was hard work, the oral history of my family was recalcitrant, barely comprehensible, as if uttered with huge reluctance in a language barely understood, with many gaps, solecisms and demotic errors. 

Peter Temple. Identity Theory. Anchor Canada/Random House of Canada Limited, 2004.
I'd read a couple of Peter Temple's more recent novels ... The Broken Shore (2005) and Truth (2009) ... and they are engaging once you get past (or into) the Oz slang. In this one, what sounded almost like a genealogy-related mystery turned into the most complicated story I think I've come across. Mystery 10, Genealogy 1½. International military secrets, mercenaries, private finder agencies, two—not one, but two—engagingly sad leading men: this book has it all with an unrelenting pace. South Africa, Lebanon, Germany, London. The smart dialogue is my kind of stuff. The genealogy is incidental and that's OK. Brilliant creation.

On journalism:
Once his trade had been going to sad and violent places and telling their stories, telling stories of death and barbarism, selling the stories. The occupation seemed to have chosen him and it was without glamour or reward. Still, there was a certain dirty-faced dignity and pride in being the person who went where other people didn't want to go, asked questions they wouldn't ask, saw things they would rather not see.

Two characters:
Whose money?” Anselm said.
O'Malley smiled, the canines showing. “Well, that's an awkward one, boyo. This is money without provenance, without parentage. Conceived in sin, sent out to make its own way in the world. It doesn't belong to Serrano, that much is certain.”
He chewed a cashew nut, picked up the bowl, turned it into a big hand. “They found bowls like this in a Chinese galleon lying on the bottom of the sea, hundreds of years old, I forget how many. Amazing, no?”
I'm not sure,” said Anselm. “Amazing's not what it used to be. I presume these people are all lying to each other.”

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