Love is Blind by William Boyd

Adolescent obsession…

😐 😐

Brodie Moncur works for an Edinburgh piano manufacturer, Channon, at the turn of the 19th century. He started out as a piano tuner but now helps out with the general running of the saleroom, so when the new Paris branch is struggling the owner asks him to go over and see what he can do. Brodie has long been at odds with his father, a bullying hellfire preacher, and has no real ties in Scotland, so happily agrees. Once there, he falls in love with Lika Blum, the girlfriend of an Irish pianist. Then he stays in love with her for the rest of the book, has sex with her quite a lot, and fantasises about having sex with her most of the rest of the time. He has sex with her in Paris, the South of France, Scotland and St Petersburg. And maybe other places – I forget.

Oh dear! I remember jokingly making a note to myself in a previous review that I must stop reading books written by major male authors once they reach the age of 60, since hormonally they appear to revert to a kind of adolescent obsession with sex. William Boyd is 66 now, and let’s face it, he was reasonably obsessed even in his prime. It’s not that the sex is graphic, nor even particularly erotic. It’s just that it’s not nearly as interesting as a subject to this reader as it appears to be to the writer. Sex as a literary side-dish, fine, but it makes for an unsatisfying main course.

There’s so much potential in the story too, but very little of it is realised. None of the locations come to life, and the bits I’d have liked to know more about – his relationship with his father and family, for example, or what life was like in St Petersburg around the time of the Revolution – seem to be introduced and then sidelined and forgotten about. Brodie’s passion for Lika doesn’t burn up the pages, probably because she hasn’t got much personality – his desire for her is purely physical, although he calls it love. The stuff about the piano tuning is actually the best bit of the book, although even here one can tell Boyd has researched it to the nth degree and is determined to name every part.

William Boyd

There is a plot of sorts, around musical plagiarism and the rivalry of Brodie and the Irish pianist for the body love of the fair Lika. But when I tell you that, as it reached its climax, the three words I wrote in my notes are “ludicrous”, “laughable” and “dire”, you’ll be able to tell I wasn’t wholly impressed by it.

I am a long-time fan of William Boyd and when he’s on form he’s one of the all-time best storytellers out there. Unfortunately, sometimes his form seems to desert him, and for me this is one of those times. If you’re new to Boyd, don’t be put off him by this review. Read Brazzaville Beach instead – there’s sex in it too, but there’s also a good story…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin Viking.

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52 thoughts on “Love is Blind by William Boyd

  1. Ouch, but a great review! I have a copy of this one, an unsolicited from the publisher, I was tempted to give it a go as I have it, but your review has me thinking my time could be better spent reading something else 🤔😅

    • Haha – sorry about that! 😉 But as usual loads of other people are loving it, so please don’t let me put you off completely! I do love Boyd, but sometimes he just misses the mark for me…

      • It doesn’t seem entirely my type of novel, but I thought I’d give it ago as the publisher sent a finished hardback, and I thought the least I could do is give it a go. I probably will at some point, I can always DNF if it’s not for me.

        • I usually try any that publishers send me too, and have found some great ones that I wouldn’t necessarily have picked for myself. If you do try it, I hope you enjoy it… 😀

  2. I enjoyed this book more than you did. I gave it 4 stars. I found it original and the writing described the times and characters very well. However the one thing I thought did nothing to add to the story was the relationship between Brodie and his father. It seemed too exaggerated somehow, and had little purpose as part of the narrative. I haven’t read any other William Boyd books – yet. On the basis of your recommendation I’d like to read Brazzaville Beach.

    • I suspect part of my disappointment is actually because I like him so much as a writer, so my expectations were very high. If I was being fair and comparing this to other people’s books, it’d probably have rated higher, but because I was hoping for another Brazzaville Beach, I felt as if he’d cheated me… 😉 I do hope you’ll go on to read more of his stuff – some of it is absolutely great!

      Thanks for popping in. 😀

  3. A stonking review – thanks for road-testing it, I will pass on this one. Interesting point of the reversal of the male of the species to adolescence once they reach 60 especially as women don’t seem to go through the same transformation!

    • Haha – thank you! 😀 Yes, it is odd, but loads of them suddenly seem to start writing books about sex once they reach a certain point of – ahem – maturity… I could probably psycho-analyse them, but I won’t… 😉

    • I think it’s because I like him so much that I get so grumpy when he disappoints me! I’m glad to hear you thought he was on form in Sweet Caress, though – I missed it at the time and it’s languishing somewhere in the depths of the TBR. I shall dust it off…

  4. So….let me guess, FictionFan, this wasn’t your top choice among Boyd’s work, right? 😉 – Seriously, it doesn’t sound appealing to me at all. Just from the setup, I’d have been more interested in learning about pianos, or life in Edinburgh at the time – or in Boston. Or…or… Nope, not tempted by this one. Thanks for cherry-picking.

    • Haha – and I thought I’d been so subtle, too! 😉 I do love his work, which makes me extra grumpy on those occasions when he doesn’t live up to my high expectations. But I felt there was so much untapped potential in this one. Won’t stop me reading his next one though!

    • I think if it had been my first introduction to him, I wouldn’t have been so grumpy about it. But because I think he can be great, my expectations are always extremely high and then if he’s off-form I’m severely disappointed. If I was comparing this to other writers rather than to his own best standards, I’d probably have thought it was quite good! Hopefully you’ll enjoy this one considerably more than I did, and whether you do or not, don’t write him off – his best books are wonderful… 😀

    • Ha! Looking at your list, this is the only one I’ve read, but even so I’m pretty sure many of the others will be better! I do love Boyd, but he is very hit or miss… I’ll still be reading his next one though!

    • Well, I’m rather glad it isn’t just me with this one! He is very good when he’s on form though, and I actually think on the whole his earlier books were better, so don’t write him off… 😀

  5. I remember trying to read Any Human Heart when I was about 16, and even though back then I was extremely committed to finishing every book I started, I couldn’t get through it – some of the same stuff you’ve highlighted in this review, like the conflation of physical attraction and love, plus the plot was so meandering that I couldn’t follow it. I haven’t picked any of Boyd’s books up since, but I might give Brazzaville Beach a try if it is better.

    • Any Human Heart is the one about Logan Mountstuart, isn’t it? If memory serves me right, it was another of his sex-obsession ones! It’s very odd – sometimes he really is wonderful and other times he just seems to miss the mark completely. I loved Brazzaville Beach, and also some of his earlier ones, but unfortunately before I began reviewing so I’m not sure which ones I loved now. Of the more recent ones, I thoroughly enjoyed Waiting for Sunrise – a kind of spy novel.

  6. Oh, that’s a shame. It sounds as though a lot of potential has been missed here. I haven’t read anything by William Boyd yet, but I do have Sweet Caress on the TBR.

    • He’s one of the most variable writers I know – sometimes wonderful, sometimes completely misses the mark. I still have Sweet Caress on my TBR too, so don’t know which way it will go, but I seem to remember that my fellow Boyd fan, Lady Fancifull, rated it pretty highly… so fingers crossed!

    • Hahaha! I must admit I had no idea about the insides of a piano before… or the problems of carting them about on concert tours! I think I’ll stick to my guitar (although you and the rest of the world will be happy to know I’m not planning any concert tours any time soon… 😉 )

      • Oh you play guitar? Very cool. I actually played piano for ten years when I was a kid (my parents forced me too) but I can still play happy birthday from memory on demand, so clearly it was worth it…

        • Ha! Well. “play” might be pushing it a bit! I got the guitar about a year ago and have been learning since then – I’m utterly dire, but I do enjoy it nevertheless. It’s the first time I’ve ever seriously tried to learn to play something – I wish I’d learned as a kid! It’s my ambition to be able to play Happy Birthday one day, or maybe even Jingle Bells!! 😂

    • Well, if you’re interested in piano tuning, then you really must read it! It’s undoubtedly the best book about piano tuning I’ve ever read… haha! That sounds as if I’m being sarcastic but I’m really not. The piano stuff was fascinating – not just the tuning, but setting them up for concerts and the manufacturing and sales side. Please don’t let me have put you off!!

  7. I always feel that I’m missing out with Boyd’s books; I feel I haven’t read enough of them. It’s helpful to know I can leave this one without angst. I have so many of his others to catch up on!

    • He’s so hit and miss, but when he’s on form he’s wonderful! I do think that he was more consistent in his early books though, so I’d tend to suggest reading them first. Unfortunately it’s so long since I read them my memory is vague, so I’m not sure which to recommend, except Brazzaville Beach which I read recently and loved, and his more recent Waiting for Sunrise.

    • Hahaha – there should be a special sub-genre of fiction for men of a certain age, complete with warning labels on the book covers. 😉 Ah well, hopefully he’s got it out of his system and will be back in form in his next one…

  8. Ugh, how disappointing. It hadn’t occurred to me but you’re right that many male authors of a certain age seem to become obsessed with sex. And the women in those books are rarely fleshed out or interesting.

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