A very unusual book which could be considered a period mystery, but stands as excellent literature on its own merits. The book starts in 1936 Los Angeles and follows a young woman architect for just enough pages for the reader to get interested in her. Then a mysterious man shows up and claims to be her father. After 70 pages she is then whisked away on a cross-Atlantic sea voyage to help her father find a woman in Lisbon. The bulk of the book then serves to explain why. In a slightly awkward device, the woman recounts, in prose form, what her father tells her about his life. This takes the reader to Manila in 1902 and follows a her father, as a doctor as he strives to bring modern medical practices to the Philippines, helps the occupying US Army investigate a series of gruesome murders, and watches his marriage fade away and maintain a love affair. There is also a subplot involving an attempt to build a flying machine. Events build to a crisis and collapse. By now the reader understands who the woman in Lisbon is and why she is important. Boyd's strength is building a complete description of time and place at the same time as he creates characters with great depth. This book won the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction.
on January 23, 2002
As a woman, if you're ever so slightly bored of modern women writers, this is for you. William Boyd's achingly beautiful writing weaves an engrossing plot involving, but not limited to, a love story told from the man's point of view. And it's refreshing to read of a man's utter devotion, told ungushingly but with such feeling and realism. In addition to the love, there is the story set mostly in the Far East, a little murder, infidelity, characters which jump out at you but allow you to fill in the gaps.... and a prologue that will have you desperate to drop the kids off at school and leave them there all week while you finish. This is a book for everyone, and the only criticism is that you won't want to read anything else once you're done!
on April 15, 2000
Superficially, it's tempting to pidgeonhole William Boyd's "The Blue Afternoon" as a thriller. For much of the way, you may find your heart racing and yourself thinking you can't put this down until you reach the end. But at the heart of this wonderfully entertaining novel is a romance, a romance so huge and heady it's almost redemptive in its force. The thriller elements of murder, blackmail and betrayal only create the opportunities and subtext for the great love affair to play out. Some readers may find the Salvador/Delphine affair surprising and even incredible. You wouldn't if you allow yourself the luxury of accepting Cupid's strange ways. But what's even more intriguing to me is Boyd's ability to generate a deep sense of sustained ambivalence in the treatment of his characters and their personal situations throughout the novel. You're never sure enough about any of them to rule anything out. For instance, Salvador's Filipino colleague, Pantaleon, shows a surprising side to him under pressure. Delphine also remains an enigma, right to the very end. Boyd's reluctance at a clear resolution perhaps hints at how he really wishes us to regard his novel, not as a "who dunnit" but as a sojourn with the human heart which needs Love and Romance to nourish and keep it alive. Kay, Salvador's daughter, isn't a technical devise or a red herring either. She may be an observer and peripheral to the plot which is told in flashbacks, but we are told she's one of two reasons why Salvador has managed to gain strength to survive his personal tragedy. "The Blue Afternoon" is an engaging and superbly written novel. Highly recommended reading.
on June 12, 2005
William Boyd is an excellent writer. The prose, characterizations and dialogue are uniformly excellent in all his books I've read, including 'The Blue Afternoon'. In this book we have, in effect, a romance between a doctor and a married woman ... plus a number of interesting side stories (murder, war, mayhem and yes, more romance). The 1903 Manila setting, just after the Spanish-American war, gives the story a historical and fascinating twist.
Like his other books, 'The Blue Afternoon' isn't an entirely believable read. But it is such a pleasurable story that one wishes it was all fact, not fiction. My only complaint with it is the ending. Some open-ended matters concerning subplots are not closed. The author has seemingly done this purposely to tease the reader. I wasn't teased, just annoyed. However this doesn't tarnish the overall pleasure of reading 'The Blue Afternoon'.
Bottom line: a rich, charming fable. Why it hasn't been made into a film is anyone's guess. Recommended to all.
on January 17, 1999
William Boyd returns to the familiar ground of Hollywood's golden area between the World Wars (which was so meticulously recreated for us in his 1988 novel "The New Confessions") and embarks on a journey which takes him forward in time to the present day, and around the world to the Philippines and Portugal. While the Blue Afternoon does not match his earlier work (Brazzaville Beach, A Good Man in Africa) in terms of meticulous attention to historical detail, he is in top form in poignant descriptions of love affairs between characters in desparate circumstances. This book is a must read for Boyd fans. For those uninitiated to Boyd, it would perhaps be better to start out with "The Destiny of Nathalie X", a fine collection of short stories, or the more satisfying and thematically focused "The New Confessions".
Fans of Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh may enjoy The Blue Afternoon, which has the same sort of sweeping temporal background as Gatsby or Brideshead.
on August 19, 2000
William Boyd, the author of "Brazzaville Beach" and "A Good Man in Africa", has written a tale of intrigue that takes us from the 1930s in Los Angeles to the late 1890s in the Philippines on a wild chase for the truth about a certain doctor's past. The tale opens with the confrontation between a budding female architect (most unlikely in 1936, but if you can get by that, the rest is easy) and an elderly man (the doctor) who claims to be her father. The story revolves around the doctor's need to eventually get to Lisbon in his efforts to locate someone.... during the trip to Portugal, he weaves the story for the architect and for us. The details of the grizzly war in the Philippines (and the behavior of the Americans there), the languid, filthy streets and neighborhoods of Manila, the medieval medical practices, and the complex world and class systems of Philippine society during the turn of the century all work together to make this a fantastic read. With little effort, this might even be a good movie!
on January 24, 1997
A masterful storyteller, William Boyd captivates his reader from the onset. "The Blue Afternoon" is a wonderful and beautifully written story that encompasses romance, intrigue, crime, and passion, and one that truly holds the reader's attention from cover to cover. From the moment I read the incredible prologue, I didn't want to put this book down. There is a skillful blending of perspective here--the author (a man) has been eminently successfully in creating a story in which a woman is the narrator, and she, in turn, recounts the story of a man (her father)
on March 25, 1998
The opening lines of this book grabbed me like few others, compelling me to read on.
Granted, the plot didn't always proceed as expected, but that ain't no sin.
It has been said that the characters in this story have not been fully developed, but to me the central characters appeared clearly enough.
Maybe the reader doesn't get to know them completely, but he does get to know as much about them as is necessary for the development of the story.
Boyd weaves several stories into the plot, and his evocative storytelling pulls the reader in.
Again, the book has been criticized for giving away the ending, but this isn't a mystery novel, so who cares; thousands of readers will know how novels such as The Old Man and The Sea or The Remains of the Day turn out, but that in no way detracts from the sheer joy of reading the words penned by the authors of those classics.
The end pulses with life, love, and loss, all tempered by hope and desire, albeit unfulfilled. The final ten pages moved me as few books ever have, with understated passion and elegance, and the final 2 pages had me awestruck.
Not for some, but a gem for others.
You might not like all of William Boyd's novels, but you can never criticize his work for lacking originality or interesting characters. "The Blue Afternoon" certainly sits firmly in unusual context(s)--the Philippines 1903, Los Angeles and Lisbon 1936--and boasts some fascinating characters. In the latter category, the principals include a Filipino/Scottish surgeon, an American married woman who is the love of his life, a 30-something daughter who he has never seen and a Filipino anesthesiologist who aspires to be the first man to fly. There are abundant meaty secondary characters in support of the story.
Largely a tale of passionate but thwarted love, the storyline is intelligent and credible despite the exotic settings and extreme ambitions and actions of its characters. As always with Boyd's books, you find yourself saying, "man, how did he come up with this stuff?" He is truly a fine writer with outsized imagination and creativity.
on January 17, 2010
This is one of those books, like the movie Titanic, that begins in one time period, flashback to an earlier one, and then returns to the first for its climax. In the case of The Blue Afternoon, two out of three isn't bad.
We are drawn into the strory when a woman whose baby has died is approachted by a down-and-out stranger who claims he's her real father. That's intriguing. The setting of 1936 Los Angeles is not particularly believable. This part is told in the first person and the woman's sensibilities a seem a bit more contemporary than that period.
The second part, detailing the man's history in American occupied Manila is incredible. William Boyd has a gift for history and the details of the (then) young doctor's medical practice ring very true. As a character (now told in third person, limited) he is much more fully realized here than in the other two sections of the book. But the account calls for some resolution we hope will occur when we return to the daughter's perspective. It does and it doesn't. For one, we have been overpowered by the man's story and barely remember the original narrator's loss. Second, he again becomes a two-dimensional figure, but now we are less inclined to accept this after all we have gone through with him.
In theory the two themes of loss should meld together. They just don't. Plenty to think about though, and I give the author full credit for allowing us to draw conclusions. But this novel with all the right ingredients, somehow, like the young doctor in 1902 Manila, misses the boat.