William Boyd Critical Essays

Introduction

William Boyd 1952–

Ghanian-born English novelist, short story writer, and critic.

Boyd impressed critics with his first works of fiction, which display a strong command of language and a fine sense of comedy. His first novel, A Good Man in Africa (1981), centers on the farcical mishaps of Morgan Leafy, a pale, fat British diplomat in West Africa who despite his bumbling prevails in most situations. The novel, which portrays comic misadventures, yet makes serious observations on the behavior of transplanted English people and their relations with native Africans, is considered both amusing and poignant. Boyd's focus on embarrassment and uncertainty in the character of Leafy, who makes disparaging asides about almost everyone he meets, has drawn favorable comparison with the title character of Kingsley Amis's novel Lucky Jim.

Boyd's short stories in On the Yankee Station (1981) often feature disenchanted protagonists and display the wry humor that distinguished his successful first novel. While many critics feel they lack the overall polish and completeness of A Good Man in Africa, these stories are more experimental than his novel and are considered to represent the work of a young, talented writer developing his craft.

An Ice Cream War (1982), Boyd's second novel, was numbered among the best books of the year by many prominent literary reviews. A historical novel, An Ice Cream War is more complex than A Good Man in Africa, principally because of Boyd's use of multiple narrative voices. Set in Africa during the outbreak of World War I, the novel focuses on the effects of war on a remote African town, where simple, happy people are suddenly caught up in a foreign conflict. The novel has been applauded for its historical accuracy, its human drama, and for Boyd's unflinching insights into the waste and chaos of war.