I am a big fan of William Boyd, who is not? He is hugely diverse, clever, funny and writes character so richly. I was unconvinced with The Romantic as an immersive read which probably has to do with it covering so much ground (a whole life). It has a sense of haste, of a helicopter perspective, or in keeping with its period, a hot air balloon ride rather than a life we can inhabit viscerally. I kept wishing the novel was all about the middle section, his time with the Romantic poets and writers in Italy.
Boyd has more than credible authority to include figures like Byron and Shelley interacting with his own 19th Century adventurer protagonist at their exotic Italian palazzi, given his masters thesis at Oxford was in this very subject. To me the quirks of interweaving intimate insider knowledge about these great figures felt detached and cameo-ed, due to the constraints of time within the frame of the novels scope. This however was the very thing others loved. There is much incident to google here which I rarely go to a novel for, I want to land in the scenery and inhale.
All that said, I have such unreasonable expectations when I pick up a new William Boyd and this is an achievement, one all the reputable journals have given a big thumbs up! The Romantic, his seventeenth novel will not disappoint new readers and viewed objectively, is competent and richly interesting.
A new "whole life" novel from William Boyd, the author of Any Human Heart. Set in the 19th century, the novel follows the roller-coaster fortunes of a man as he tries to negotiate the random stages, adventures and vicissitudes of his life.
He is variously a soldier, a farmer, a pawnbroker, a bankrupt, a jailbird, a writer, a gigolo - and many other manifestations and, finally, a minor diplomat, based in Trieste (then in Austria-Hungary) where he sees out the end of his days.