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on 4 June 2017
I have only just started to read this book and it is promising well, as to be expected from anything written by William Boyd. He is one of my favourite authors. Thank you.
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on 1 September 2017
Didn't realise I had read it before but enjoyed it all over again
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on 18 June 2015
This is only the fourth William Boyd book I've read. The others were Restless (an excellent WWII spy story), The Blue Afternoon (a well written, if slightly tedious, romance-cum-murder mystery) and Solo (with some reservations a very effective James Bond reboot). Armadillo - a masterful character study-cum-mystery - is perhaps second best to Restless.

I was aware of the mixed reviews, and hesitated to buy it until I saw The Complete Review had given it a coveted A rating. Initially - like many others, I guess - I had a problem identifying with the protagonist, unsurprisingly because he is the representative of a profession which is (if Boyd is to be believed) cruel, dishonest and cynical, driving people to their deaths. But once we buy into the personality of Lorimer Black, we can stand beside him as he experiences the results of his actions, and can sympathize with his very human dilemmas. Through his eyes we see the familiar denizens of London, both indigenous and multicultural, against a background of a metropolis described in terms of a taxi driver learning The Knowledge.

The tone of the novel is quite arch, reflecting the attitudes of the anti-hero, but also sees Boyd getting close to the style of Tom Sharpe, occasionally resulting in episodes which are laugh-out-loud funny. Fortunately it does not suffer from his frequent verbosity - the reader might mentally remove superfluous words from Solo, and superfluous passages from The Blue Afternoon - though it is rife with his trademark arcane vocabulary, which had me bringing up the Kindle dictionary numerous times. Boyd must be the only writer who uses "rebarbative" in all his books - or at all. (Speaking of Solo, the author shamelessly rehashes a passage from this book in his Bond pastiche, substituting 007 for Lorimer Black).

This, Boyd's seventh novel, was the first to be set in Britain, and one might reasonably expect it to be in the Queen's English. But the differences between British and American English seem to escape him. The effect is to make characters less plausible, less believable. Thus the British narrator of Restless thinks toilet cubicles are called stalls, a rise is a raise, and so forth, while the American narrator of The Blue Afternoon talks about sweet shops instead of candy stores, and alternates lifts with elevators. The second half of Solo is mostly written in a kind of lazy American English, giving the impression that Bond is so completely overawed by American culture that he is effectively brainwashed by it - an idea that would have Ian Fleming spinning in his grave.

It seems in this one there has been at least some editorial control. Early on, Lorimer's case, we are told, contains "bills'', and it is only a moderate paragraph later that we understand these are banknotes, not bills. But after that everything is fine until about three quarters of the way through (where, presumably, the editor nodded off), when petrol becomes gasoline, arse becomes ass, sanitary towels become napkins, a hospital trolley becomes a gurney, and (I kid you not) using a cashpoint becomes "receiving money from an automated teller machine".

So what's so good about this novel? Boyd spends a lot of time planning his books, then writes them out longhand before handing them over to a professional typist. The result is well thought out, often gripping, plots, and Armadillo is no exception. Once I bought the character of the anti-hero I was in, and the book became a page-turner. I did, though, have a problem with the ending, as I had problems with the endings of Solo (is Boyd begging to write a sequel?) and The Blue Afternoon, where I couldn't identify the murderer(s). Perhaps I' m just stupid, but here for the life of me I couldn't make head nor tail of the explanation of the financial skulduggery.

But in the final analysis this is a masterful character study of someone with a dirty job to do, whose sometimes humorous trials and tribulations we might go some way to identify with. Even taking into account the above reservations I thoroughly enjoyed it. Plotwise we get an alternation of perspective - albeit between the action and Lorimer's eclectic Book of Transfiguration - an alternation that we find in Restless, between past and present, but is absent from the somewhat prolix Blue Afternoon - and which allows the reader a refreshing change of perspective.

Regarding the Kindle edition, as pointed out by other reviewers, it is dogged by who-cares proofreading. If Penguin's print books bristled with so many typos they would have gone out of business long ago. Perhaps their new German masters can teach them something about accuracy and precision.
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on 24 May 2013
I have a bit of a thing about insurance so it was fun to read a novel about loss adjusting. The larger-than-life, mostly vile characters are entertaining and there are some great set pieces - making it possible the novel was written with a screenplay in mind.

On the downside, simply too much going on - Greek helmets, sleep experiments, Transnistrian gypsies, philosophical diaries. But I love all the careering around London, the smoking - very nostalgic now - the dialogue and the punch ups.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 October 2009
Armadillo is a shining achievement - one of Boyd's best books. It concerns Milomre Blocj (who has renamed himself Lorimer Black), of Eastern European gypsy extraction. The youngest son of a large family, he was born and works in London as an insurance loss adjuster. This is a dark comedy of the metropolis and the golden mile - dark deeds, business disasters, murky violence and threats around every corner.

Boyd's fluid style and sharp perceptions are at their best in this brilliantly constructed, acutely funny, yet melancholy book. Several themes run through this book - flowers, antique helmets, routes around and across London, trashed cars, and insomnia. The character of Lorimer is brilliantly drawn - impressionable, intelligent, clever yet also periodically naïve - he is a very likeable protagonist. His boss Hogg is a classic tough man; his amour Flavia is a mercurial, maddening beauty; his friends and family are deftly created and sustained. I've read this book twice now, a thing I rarely do with any book, and I enjoyed it even more the second time.
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on 4 February 2013
I normally love William Boyd as a writer but was very disappointed with this. Well written it surely is but I actually abandoned it about half way through. I found the characters confusing and I couldn't warm o any of them and got to he stage of not caring at all what happened to any of them . The situations they found themselves in was equally in interesting to me. I suppose there was humour in the book but again didn't really increase the appeal. Sorry but for me this is a William Boyd novel that didn't excite.
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on 10 August 2001
Armadillo by William Boyd
a pastiche of the mystery/thriller/crime works of confection we are bombarded with on the shelves of every bookstore. It seems at first that we will be treated to a slow and conventional unravelling of a suicide, an insurance fraud, and other gritty episodes, and that these mundane layers will peel back to suck our hero unwittingly into a seedy underworld of crime that thrives alongside our respectable city professions (surely not!). But actually this teasingly never transpires. This is a good old-fashioned character study and all the better for it. Although these plot episodes serve a purpose - to bring our hero, down on his luck, to his knees, in order that he may change and rise from the ashes (yes, he has to be himself; a hundred thousand therapists applaud) - Boyd must surely be making a point about the fiction industry: here is a book that will sell because of inconsequential devices which, had they been absent, would not have dented the book's literary worth, but sure as hell would've dented its gross product.
And its message is a wonderful message. Think for yourself, and trust your conclusions; and sod society. Milo, of Eastern European extraction, has always strived to fit in. This information is not imparted clumsily - Milo is a confident and successful businessman; the very epitome, in fact, of what success is considered to be in our society. In this role, though, he finds himself colluding, merely by his presence, in all sorts of ubiquitous undesirable elements - sexism, nepotism, classism, etc. He narrates all the way through, and, until the end, almost never passes judgement, yet we, the reader, gain a sense of his disgust at these things despite his passivity and impassivity. This is indeed skilled writing...
In a key episode he reacts (for the first time - active not passive) against an ordinary but unpleasantly-sexist character who has always (without explanation) treated him as a friend. Milo makes a huge physical gesture, tipping over the offender's flower stall in retaliation to his overt sexism, and in doing so is finally being true to his values and extricating himself from a friendship (like all the others) that he didn't want to be a part of in the first place.
After the flower stall denouement, he loses his job and becomes (from being very rich) very poor. His father, who has been mute and vegetative (for as long as Milo has been trapped and kidding himself, we imagine) dies, Milo learns his persistent sleep problems reflect his need to control (or his panic at a life he is not in control of), and, his pride and joy, an incredibly expensive 3000 year old Greek helmet, for which he traded in all his beloved former armour collection and paid an extra few thousand for, got stuck on his head as he tried it on for the first time and had to be cut off - ruined. Armadillo means little armoured man. In the end Milo sheds his armour... It is a credit to the author and his painstaking structuring that these themes and plot strands converge at the end in an almighty organically-symbolic crash.
But if you do reject society's values, are you left a hermit or can you change things for the better? The novel doesn't come down one way or the other. Take one of the key motifs: music. Milo rejected all Western music post-1960 (one of the few ways in which he let his instinct flourish). He was working his way round the world in music and, at the time of his life in which the novel was set, was listening to African music. He came in contact, through his noxious work, with a rock musician whom he influenced to listen to this music, and who eventually built a whole recording studio round the name of the album Milo had led him to discover - sheer acimoto. This could be a statement of hope - you can influence mankind for the better - or one of twisted pessimism - the rock singer may well have totally misunderstood the nature of this music, and will probably turn it into more mass-produced 'ungenuine' (as Milo would say) rubbish, as evidenced by the commercialization element of a recording studio.
But whatever the consequences, the message unflinchingly remains: don't collude, even passively, with the evils of society. You may be the only one who can see it, it may leave you exposed to point it out, but in the end you'll lose yourself in society if you don't reconcile the differences between your point of view and its in your own favour.
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on 12 September 2013
I am a William Boyd enthusiast.
I found his 'Restless' one of the most un-put-downable books I have read in a long time.
But Armadillo!!
As I said I don't know. Each time I thought it picked up, it crashed down again
So many things introduced and not answered; right to the very end which I thought was left in the air as if there was to be another chapter or even another book to be written.
So yes! Disappointing
And then I had the Kindle version which almost drove me crazy with its sloppy transition, and poor proof reading.
Words running into each other, poor punctuation, constant use of a Capital T for the 1st person singular.

I think such an elegant writer as Mr Boyd has every right to complain.
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on 5 September 2014
This is about a man called Lorimer Black of eastern European origin, the youngest son of a family who moved to London post WW2, three generations living in Fulham. He is the only university graduate. He had chosen a Scottish University so as to get as far away from his family as possible. His roguish brothers run a successful mini-cab business, specialising in profitable runs to airports. He himself enters the insurance business, eventually becoming a loss adjuster.

To properly understand the plot of the story it is worth consulting cila.co.uk the website of the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters. This explains the role of a loss adjuster in insurance claims: essentially to check its validity, e.g., in the case of a fire that there is no question of arson.

The fees of the loss adjuster are normally paid by the insurance company in question, but claimants can appoint one at their own expense if they wish to. The CILA says that all its members should abide by the Institute's code of conduct, but that if you are worried about the 'loyalty' of the company's man then perhaps you should appoint your own if the claim exceeds ten grand.

The current story follows the protagonist Lorimer for just a few weeks of his professional life. All you will learn about this man is through his INTERACTION (conversation and activities) with others; his boss and his colleagues, his family and friends, and sexual partners. He also keeps a diary of sorts. He also suffers from sleep deprivations which may shed some light on the man.

Never having read a story written in this way I found it rather heavy going at first, but you get used to it and eventually it becomes a page turner. I can't say I "thoroughly enjoyed" it
however, unlike the last Boyd novel I read, "Restless". One of the reviewers says she read the book twice and I might just do that. I have dwelt mainly on one aspect of the story (the role of the loss adjuster) so I strongly suggest you read the other reviews.
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on 18 August 2013
I chose to read this novel because I have been very impressed with other works by this author. His fluency in the manipulation of language is superb, and his ability to create "real-life" characters is extraordinary. I was not disappointed with Armadillo.

That said, this is a very strange work and many readers will doubtless become discouraged with the tone of disconnection from reality which pervades the work: hence my review title about living in a parallel universe. Much remains unexplained, requiring the reader to accept a situation where there is no all-knowing narrator who puts everything in perspective. Thus we see life through the eyes of a character who himself cannot fully grasp the significance of what happens to him nor the meaning of words and actions by those people with whom he has contact on a daily basis. In this sense, the work has a very existential atmosphere.

The meaning of the title (and the rather odd image on the front cover copy - a man with his end in a box) only becomes clear at the close of the novel. Thus the metaphor of the armadillo and the theme of antique-collecting are eventually successfully merged by Boyd, and one marvels at his ability to play with symbolic meaning.

Built into the novel is a well-written "who dunnit?" set in the heart of London's business world. This story represents the main string of reality, as lived by the protagonist, and is more or less resolved toward the end of the novel but, typical of the rest, not entirely.

Then there is the "love interest" as the protagonist becomes involved with a woman who remains persistently unwilling to commit. Right up to the end, we are not sure of the outcome. The fact that she keeps changing her appearance is disconcerting in itself, making it hard to delineate her character and temperament, even though our hero is smitten at first sight.

In this novel Boyd takes on the weighty issue of personal identity which is examined in the context of work and family, friendship, neighbors, and acquaintances. In the context of family, national and cultural identities are explored with the protagonist as a third-generation immigrant born in Britain. Typical of this type of identity, he has lost fluency in the original mother tongue, making him unable to understand conversations between his mother and grandmother. The picture of three generations of an East European family making their respective ways in life in London is beautifully drawn with immense attention to details of family interactions.

Little by little, the protagonist's own life story emerges and we discover that identity has been a major source of suffering and stress in his life. It is heart-warming that Boyd finally allows this character to become reconciled with himself at the close.

The picture that Boyd paints of contemporary business life in London among successful professionals reveals a worrying specter of emptiness that this lifestyle brings with it. The fragility of business ethics and the willingness to flirt with criminality reminded me of those individuals in Wall Street who precipitated the 2008 global financial crisis, leading me to wonder how and why such empty lives and callous behavior can be remedied? What is missing?

Finally, I have to acknowledge the many small literary pleasures on every page. Simile is used to create fabulous word-pictures, and simple description of the constantly-changing British weather is tied masterfully to its effect on mood.

The only thing that remains in doubt for me are the interspersed writings, like a diary or journal, on a variety of themes which interrupt the basic narrative but present some internal continuity of their own. No reference at all is made to explain or justify these reflections. However it is noteworthy that when the protagonist gets himself in a real fix, one of the items he takes with him is this journal. I need to think about this further, in order to form an opinion of its significance and role in the novel....

All in all, a great (and seriously disconcerting) read!
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