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on 13 April 2007
The New Confessions has similarities to Any Human Heart, encompassing as it does a man's life from boyhood through to old age. The main difference is that while Any Human Heart unfolded contemporaneously in the form of a journal or diary, The New Confessions is written retrospectively - an old man looking back on his life, remembering the highs and lows.

The story is as gripping as any of Boyd's novels, largely due to Boyd's immense talent in imbuing the ordinary with rivetting, magnetic fascination. The ordures of public school initiation, the fierceness of first love (or crush), the passions, terrors, obsessions and regrets of any life, are magnified and captured with breath-catching aplomb. Boyd is one of the few writers - Updike, Ishiguro and McEwan also spring to mind- who can make the reader giggle uncontrollably one minute and in the next reel from some gut-wrenchingly vivid drama.

The New Confessions follows John James Todd from his childhood in Edinburgh, under the care of his austere surgeon father and his sharp-witted and idiosyncratic nanny Oonagh , through schooldays and friendship with the mathematical child prodigy Hamish Malahide, to adulthood with all its attendant thwarted dreams, shocking traumas and rich relationships. John James may be selfish and self-centred - SPOILER: not only is he serially unfaithful to his long-suffering wife Sonia, but he has the cheek to hire a private investigator to see if she herself is being unfaithful; not only does he repeatedly chastise his older brother Thompson in his autobiography for being uncaring, but he manipulates Thompson into arranging a bank loan on which he subsequently defaults, and makes a pass at Thompson's wife; not only does he fail to ask others about their problems or lives but he witters endlessly about his own talent; not only does he cruelly note all physical flaws in his wife and brother but he deludedly comments to himself on his own good looks. Yet despite these glaring faults, John James is also funny, articulate, intelligent and a compelling character to read about. He is passionate about his career, his friends and his one true love. And Boyd's novel transports you in a hypnotised daze through all these beautifully drawn characters and events and manages to be sharp, witty, touching, devastating and gorgeously written at the same time. Another classic from one of our top five living British authors.
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on 30 November 2004
I struggle with some of Boyd's writing - but find the two quasi-autobiographical novels (Any Human Heart and The New Confession) truly outstanding.
They both take you on a rampage across the 20th Century - but whilst based on a similar premise are utterly different.
In this case the lead character is fascinating, flawed and disturbingly like many people you know in his ability to make the wrong decision at each moment of truth.
I am impressed with Boyd's ability to design fictitious lives in such detail - it really makes you feel as if he is a biographer who has researched his subject for years.
Impossible to put down. Truly excellent.
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on 16 May 2001
The strength of Boyd's imagery is so strong, that it leaves a very deep imprint on the readers mind.
You feel like John James Todd takes you on a journey through the 20th Century - from the horror and darkness of the First World War trenches, to the glamour and grime of Hollywood. The storytelling is superbly paced and peaked - a rollercoaster ride of emotions. But this is only taking the book at face value. The New Confessions is actually a book of a film within a book - with a highly accomplished mirroring of Jean Jacques Rousseau's The Confessions. Boyd has not only succeeded in updating the characters and action from one of the most highly regarded pieces of literature of all time, he has in many ways surpassed it.
I cannot recommend this highly enough - it is not an overstatement to call reading this book a life changing experience. You will not want it to end and will go back again, time and again.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 April 2012
This epic novel is the fictitious life story, from birth to old age, of a typically Boyd-ian character. It is written in the first person, mostly focussing on episodes from the past, with an ongoing story set in the character's present (1970s) interspresed throughout. I found it similar to Boyd's later novel, Any Human Heart, in terms of its style and scope, although his protagonist here and his life events are sufficiently different. It's certainly ambitious in scope, taking in a wide variety of settings and scenarios.

The central character is one you'd often like to reach into the page and shake, so frustrating are some of his decisions, but he is all the more realistic for it. Whilst the storyline is far-fetched, Boyd has a skill for making the extraordinary seem ordinary and real. It's also an interesting look at a diverse range of areas, from the Western Front to the film industry. Some of the storylines and characters seem underdeveloped, and the central character has a rather implausible number of romantic liaisons, but overall it's a reasonable enough story and told with Boyd's usual flair and skill.

That said, it's a long book and perhaps could have done with a slightly tougher edit, but despite that I did enjoy reading it.
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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2013
This is a kind of partner to Any Human Heart. These two novels give us key themes of William Boyd and it's quite remarkable how similar the structure and storyline is. They are reflections on life lived in the century in which it was lived. Any Human Heart deals with a writer in search of his Magnum Opus, which never comes. Here we have a filmmaker in search of his Magnum Opus which never comes. In both cases they show a flash of genius that they cannot sustain. Life gets in the way. They both come from middle-class backgrounds. They have parents who expect something else of them. They both spent time in solitary confinement. And in the war. They both spent time in America and the Spanish Civil War. They both have a wife they leave acrimoniously and get cut off from children. But they have other lovers, losing great loves but finding others, including ones they meet up with again over the years. They both end up living in a kind of retreat in poverty but with preserved circumstances. They are both watched the 20th century unfold and their stories are linked to the events of the 20th century. For example, in this book, John James Todd is derailed by the McCarthy era when he is labelled a Communist. Our protagonist here doesn't make it to Oxford, he has to go to university north of the border.

Does that make it better because you can compare storylines and views of history or derivative or does it just mean that the author found a great plotline and repeated it with a twist? Well whichever, it is still a very good book. I think Boyd is one of those literary writers that you can enjoy on the beach.
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on 3 August 2010
This is an memorable evocation of a life, in my opinion the best William Boyd book so far. The characterisation rings true at every turn. John James Todd is a particularly masterful creation; I found myself simultaneously cringing and profoundly empathising with Todd's inability to control his self-destructive impulses. Boyd also creates a great sense of location atmosphere, I particularly enjoyed the Berlin and Hollywood scenes. A must read book!
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on 15 May 2015
Enough information is provided in the formal Description and the accompanying reviews for the potential reader to decide whether to purchase this volume. For this reason I will confine my remarks to just two wartime incidents experienced by the protagonist, Todd, in the story.

The first happens at the end of Chapter 16 when visiting an old school friend, Hamish, who is then (1944) a mathematician involved in making and breaking codes at a US government department attached to Princeton University, where refugee talent from Europe has migrated. Hamish introduces Todd to one of the senior staff, Kurt, who is an admirer of the films Todd made in Berlin. This is in fact a reference to Kurt Godel, a famous mathematician responsible for the Incompleteness Theorem (1931). This was the mathematical equivalent of detonating an atom bomb in the world of mathematical logic. To be very brief it states that in any system of arithmetic based on a consistent set of axioms, there are truths which can be EXPRESSED within the system but which cannot be PROVED using that system. (Any reader who is interested can find out more from Wikipedia).

The second incident occurs immediately afterwards in Chapter 17 where Todd himself is on his way to the Mediterranean (as a camera man/journalist) to report on the American Invasion of St Tropez on the French Coast. I found this quite interesting because I was at College in London in the summer of 1944 when on 6th of June the D-day landings on the Normandy beaches took place. These clearly overshadowed the later St. Tropez invasion on 16th August.

The British clearly thought this unnecessary because it diverted both British and American forces from pushing north into Italy. Indeed it was a point of dispute between Churchill/Montgomery and Roosevelt/Eisenhower.
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on 21 June 2006
So utterly convincing at times you wonder if it's all true! William Boyd seems equally at home depicting scenes of domestic drudgery or the glamourous life of the artist in pre-war Berlin. Pathos, farce, tragedy it's all here. There are some brilliant passages describing life in the trenches of the First Word War evoking the horror, bordedom, futility and heroism of life on the western front. Equally well written are laugh out loud sections.

The book is written in the style of an autobiography, which gives the tale an added dimension. As you see everything through John James Todd's eyes, it's not long before you realize that although he may be in some ways brilliant, there is also a lot going on that he really dosen't have a clue about.

As you progress throught the book you'll ask yourself, is our hero mad, or a genious? John James Todd lurches from one scene to another with breathtaking style but not always with dazzling results. It's rather like watching Maradonna charge down a football pitch leaving the opposing teams players strewn on the ground behind him, before scoring the perfect goal, only to realize he's put the ball in his own net.

The plot moves along rapidly and you won't want to put the book down.
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on 9 August 2014
This is the third or fourth time I have read this book and I still rate it as one of my favourites. William Boyd is an outstanding writer and all his books are well worth reading, but this novel is totally absorbing and evokes the time of the silent movies followed by the McCarthy witch hunt with total conviction. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 11 July 2016
Enthralling exploration of the human condition
Over riding loyalty from John Todd defines the layers of human interaction.chance ensures the bounces of success but they are always linked to a random outcome
The story telling technique is intricate and real autobiographical by Todd John Todd
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