Until I started work at Jesus College, Oxford, I’d never actually heard of William Boyd. But it turns out he’s an alumnus of the College; I’ve read quite a few of his novels to date and enjoyed them all, especially ‘Restless’. ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ was our Book Club choice for March 2020.
Adam Kindred’s life turns on a sixpence. Having been for a job interview, he meets a businessman and strikes up a conversation. When the businessman leaves a file of information behind in restaurant, Adam tries to return it. The simple act of kindness results in life as he knows it unravelling. He’s forced to live rough, skulking in the shadows of London trying to avoid detection. Meanwhile, the reader learns the back story of the forgetful businessman, and his role in the development of a ground-breaking cure for asthma. As the novel develops, we meet a two contrasting casts of characters, ranging from hit-men and prostitutes in London’s underclasses, to a titled Board member and top pharmaceutical executives.
This book cracks on at a pace, with plenty of twists and turns. It is cleverly crafted, weaving together the major threads of the story in a page-turning thriller. As well as being exciting, I found myself really questioning who were the good guys and who were the baddies, and how easy it is to make assumptions about people based on their place in society. Adam is faced with some tough choices and makes some decisions which I’m sure he would have abhorred in his previous life. It really made me think about what lengths I might be prepared to go to in order to survive.
If you haven’t read any Boyd before, this is as good a place as any to start. However if it isn’t quite to your liking, I wouldn’t give up on him without trying another book – one of the things we agreed upon in our Book Club chat is that Boyd’s novels are very different from one another. So much so, that if you didn’t know, it might not be that easy to tell they were all by the same author.