Sweet Caress is the life story of fictional photographer Amory Clay and it begins in England, in 1908. The novel covers Amory’s childhood, her career as a photographer, her experiences during both World Wars and the Vietnam War, and her relationships. It’s astounding that a book about a female in an unconventional role (war photographer), could be so, so boring,
Firstly, I have no issue with male authors writing from the perspective of a female character or vice versa. It’s about authenticity, and an authentic voice makes the gender of an author irrelevant. When it’s not authentic, it jars and such was the case with Amory. From her static observations about the people around her to her weird descriptions of sex, Amory was unconvincing on every level. Most annoying was that Blake, in what I believe was his attempt at the female gaze, included constant references to fashion and food (because all women care about clothes and belong in the kitchen, right?).
I turned round to see John Oberkamp standing there. He was in jeans and a tight, ultramarine, big-collared shirt.
and one paragraph later
She was wearing white jeans and a white shirt.
…the bargirls sitting around in their lurid miniskirts and bikini tops, chatting…
A food example –
Our meal arrived…rare steaks with a tomato salad. Charbonneau poured the Duhart-Milon.
and on the next page (after the dinner and awkward sex)
We ate eggs Benedict and drank cold Chablis.
I didn’t have to search for those examples, I just opened the book. It’s 447 fricking pages of the same.
Secondly, the book includes photographs. Apparently Boyd collected vintage photographs and wove the story around them. Again, the problem is authenticity. The photographs might be vintage, the story might suit the photographs but the photographs are all a bit shit. Which is a problem when Amory is a photographer. In the years I spent producing publications for government, I wore out the phrase “Your publication is only as good as the worst image.” Because it’s true – people notice bad photographs. The photographs Boyd has used in Sweet Caress do nothing to create a sense of time and place, instead they provide visual evidence of the contrived story.
Lastly, Boyd should note that beginning every second paragraph with “I remember…” doesn’t make it a (fictitious) memoir, it just makes it repetitive.
I am in the minority regarding Sweet Caress. Over at Goodreads it’s rated 3.95. Either Boyd has lots of mates on Goodreads or I’ve missed something.
I began to eat the food that the family ate – steak pies, roast chicken, broccoli, raspberry crumble…
Try these raspberry crumble bars by Half Baked Harvest.