Stars and Bars

Rapidly approaching forty, Henderson Dores longs to change his life drastically. Offered the opportunity to work for a New York art dealer, Henderson jumps at the chance to start over, especially by becoming engaged again to his former wife, an American, in an attempt to relive the only happy time of his life. He ends up with a more confusing love life, as he tries to juggle relationships with Melissa, his fiancee, and Irene, his mistress.

The heart of the novel is a trip which Henderson takes, with Bryant, Melissa’s fourteen-year-old daughter, to a small town near Atlanta where an eccentric supposed millionaire will offer him the collection of paintings which will assure his status with his employer. Instead, he becomes embroiled in a series of conflicts with the collector’s family, and disaster quickly follows disaster.

Boyd’s previous two novels, both set in Africa, also present Englishmen confronting chaos abroad. He follows in the seriocomic tradition of such writers as Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Berger, and Tom Sharpe. STARS AND BARS also contains deliberate echoes of another satirical masterpiece, Vladimir Nabokov’s LOLITA (1955).

One of Boyd’s many targets is the self-conscious pursuit of self-knowledge, with the implication that the quest itself is likely to be much more interesting than any result. Henderson intends to discover if America loves him as much as he loves it but learns that he can fit in only by being as bizarre as America is.