Literary Criticism and Significance

Published in 2009, Ordinary Thunderstorms is William Boyd’s tenth novel. Perhaps because Boyd has previously had fun at the expense of his critics, many reviewers gave Ordinary Thunderstorms mixed responses. Boyd’s novel Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928–1960, published in 1998, was a work of fiction. However, Boyd published the novel as a work of biography and even produced Tate’s paintings. Perhaps due to this hoax, critics have been reluctant to offer a firm interpretation of Ordinary Thunderstorms. Critics tended to comment favorably on Boyd’s writing but were unsure about his purpose and how to receive the novel within the context of Boyd’s body of work. Still, Boyd has written successfully and has garnered a wide variety of awards for his previous novels.

Critics tended to wonder what lies at the heart of Ordinary Thunderstorms. Writing for Telegraph, Philip Hensher remarked,

I would love to know what Boyd really thinks. But I don’t think we are ever going to find that out by reading his novels.

Hensher goes on to suggest that Ordinary Thunderstorms is well crafted but hollow. Expanding on this ambiguity, Phil Baker speculated in The Sunday Times that Ordinary Thunderstorms is “probably best enjoyed as a kind of black comedy” due to its alternating gestures toward real details and the synthetic.

Ultimately, few reviewers representing major publications attempted to engage with the text itself without referring to Boyd’s body of work. Writing for The Guardian, Alex Clarke commented favorably on the plot of Ordinary Thunderstorms. Boyd has created a richly layered and intricate plot through which he has marched his lost hero, Adam Kindred. However, even Clarke is uncertain as to Boyd’s central purpose, suggesting that it “appears to be a mini-exploration of the nature of modern citizenship combined with a picaresque tour of the various strata of British metropolitan life.”

Read as a thriller, Ordinary Thunderstorms does a fine job of keeping its readers turning pages. Adam Kindred’s plight is interesting and his quest to find a semblance of identity is often fascinating. However, viewed through a critic's lens, the question of the novel is largely focused on Boyd’s true purpose. Did he set out to write a thriller or a work of literature?

Regardless of his purpose, Ordinary Thunderstorms stands out among Boyd’s other novels. It is the first in which Boyd has employed an omniscient narrator. Boyd has loosely set the novel in the contemporary period, though he refrains from setting it during a specific year. Boyd has set his novels in a variety of times and places, but some commentators have pointed out that Ordinary Thunderstorms, like many of Boyd’s novels, explores what it means to be English.