William Boyd Andrew Motion - Essay

Andrew Motion

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"If any one theme can be said to emerge from the stories in On The Yankee Station it is a concern with narrative in its varying guises and modes, approaches and methods." William Boyd's publishers are keen to make him hot property—not simply by bringing out this collection hard on the heels of his successful first novel [A Good Man in Africa], but by implying that he is an innovator: a post-modernist trouble-shooter. Boyd himself provides some justification for this enrolment into the avant-garde. His concluding story tricksily exploits the methods by which life becomes art. Its speaker, William (Boyd? or who?), loses his girlfriend to an older brother and compensates for the actual loss in a fictional retaliation. He pushes—or does he?—his brother over a waterfall. Boyd encourages us to admire his playfulness: "You write fiction and what are you doing?", his namesake asks, "You're telling lies, pal, that's all". But as the book's other stories testify, it is very far from being all; neither is it true to say that Boyd's main concern is with the processes and resources of narrative. On The Yankee Station is a collection of eminently readable, entertaining and deeply traditional stories, in which the inclination to fabricate is not self-consciously or modernistically investigated as a problem of the "novel", but granted to characters as a sign of emotional or (usually) sexual uncertainty.

"Hardly Ever", one of the most engaging stories, makes the point comically. A group of public school boys volunteer to sing in H.M.S. Pinafore,...

(The entire section is 651 words.)