three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
By: 
William Boyd
user_rating: 
0

A-Ordinary ThunderstormsWilliam Boyd, a critically acclaimed screenwriter, novelist, and short story writer, has received various prestigious literary awards, including the Whitbread Award (for A Good Man in Africa, 1981) and the Costa Book Award (for Restless, 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2007). Ordinary Thunderstorms is his tenth novel.

The Story: When Adam Kindred arrives in London for a job interview, he has no idea his complicated life is about to get even worse. The 30-something climatologist was hoping to make a fresh start in England, far away from the failed marriage and tawdry scandal that forced him to leave Arizona. A chance encounter with a stranger leads Adam to the apartment of a dying man, and his split-second decision to flee the crime scene has grave repercussions. Pursued by the cops and the real killer, Adam is forced to survive off the grid as tries to solve a complex mystery and clear his name.
Harper. 403 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780061876745

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"He's a novelist of a kind that's fairly unfamiliar in this country, less rare in Britain: a debonair, versatile, casually philosophical literary entertainer--clever and thoughtful, but not so dauntingly brilliant that you suspect him of being, as Jeeves would say, ‘fundamentally unsound.' ... [The novel] is, like all his books, ambitious in an offhand, almost insolent manner, bringing home once again Boyd's favorite ideas about identity and the tribulations of the beleaguered self." Terrence Rafferty

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"There's a touch of Graham Greene in Boyd's ability to infuse genre fiction with humanity and corrosive humor, and in Ordinary Thunderstorms there's a Dickensian dimension, too: the teeming tiers of Londoners--the high and mighty, the low and desperate--whose paths cross, and cross Kindred's, in strange, fateful ways. ... [Boyd's novel] is a snappy page-turner, a true thriller, but also a morally tricky piece of work: Kindred becomes something more (or less?) than an innocent man falsely accused." Steven Rea

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Boyd is highly adept at doing what novelists do best: exploring the multifarious possibilities implicit in human life. ... [A]n interesting if somewhat odd book." Troy Jollimore

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The most astonishing thing about William Boyd's fine new novel is how hackneyed its opening chapter is. ... Once Boyd lays out that thread-worn crisis, in fact, the rest of his novel quickly grows rich and engaging." Ron Charles

Seattle Times 2 of 5 Stars
"[B]ewilderingly uneven. ... The mechanics of the plot are certainly intricate, but Boyd's writing has never been so lackluster, or lapsed so often into cliché." Michael Upchurch

Critical Summary

In his tenth novel, Boyd takes a stab at the "wronged-man-on-the-run" plot, with mixed results. While some critics thought it a "snappy page-turner, a true thriller" (Philadelphia Inquirer), others felt the story falters under the weight of clunky writing and tiresome clichés. This came as a surprise to reviewers, who were accustomed to the elegant, precise prose in Boyd's earlier works. Ordinary Thunderstorms may not appeal to the conventional thriller fan. It perhaps works best as a novel that explores identity, anonymity in modern urban life, reinvention, and the tumultuous domino effect that can result from one fateful decision.