Top positive review
65 people found this helpful
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.