William Boyd Paul Ableman - Essay

Paul Ableman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[On The Yankee Station comprises] short stories which are, with one exception, formidably accomplished. Like William Boyd's first novel, A Good Man in Africa, they reveal no sign of beginner's fumbling. Several of them have already appeared in various magazines and it is likely that they represent Mr Boyd's literary apprenticeship. Apart from the exception already mentioned, all the tales are assured and expert. The feeling of apprentice work derives not from their quality but from their variety. They include a psychological thriller, a touching story of sexual initiation, a sickening (because of its flawless evocation) study of a napalm-happy American pilot in the Vietnam war and the mechanic who hates him, several pieces about unpleasant fat Englishmen sweating in post-colonial Africa, a first-person memoir (in as seamless an American vernacular as Salinger at his best) by a sometime child star on the skids and several others. The impression they convey is of an aspiring author exploring his talent by setting it a variety of literary challenges. So far, so good, and there is no doubt that Mr Boyd, not yet 30, is set fair for a dazzling career. And yet there is something about these stories that disturbs me. They are imbued with a fashionable sense of disenchantment. The author appears to be blasé before he has lived long enough to be genuinely disillusioned. This does not seem a pose but rather the product of that kind of precocity often associated with a public school education. There is no sense of a questing mind grappling anew with experience.

This applies to 12 of the stories. The ominous thirteenth is another matter. It seems an authentically early work. It has an experimental format and is entitled, not very happily, 'Long Story Short'. It is both too...

(The entire section is 739 words.)