The New Confessions, by William Boyd

Written as an autobiography, a bit like Any Human Heart, this is the story of John James Todd, born in 1899, running away from his school to join the army in WW1, becoming a film director and enjoying worldwide success, then subsequent failure and ruin.

One of his lifetime obsessions is with Rousseau: he plans a trilogy of films covering the philosopher's life and sees similarities with his own life - a bit like Tubby Passmore.

Unlike Any Human Heart you didn't get so much interweaving of Todd's life story with other famous people of the age. And looking back, it didn't seem to be quite as much of a saga as the other book. But it was still a brilliant read.

There was quite a lot of humour A bottle of wine cost £10 and I once ate a meat dish there that someone later told me was 'spaniel' - that's funny because he names a specific breed, but he puts it in quotes.

I liked this:

I was outraged, brimming with hurt and disappointment. I, who could only write to her, had to accept that Faye's life was not centered on my weekly letters as mine was on hers. I was in the grip of an irrational jealousy so intense it made me want to vomit.
We like to laugh - do we not? - at the baroque passions of high adolescence, but we cannot deny that they control and guide us during those few hot palpitating years. It is an unsettling, overwhelming power and one that most people will never feel so vehemently again, indeed, will never want to be so ruthlessly led. Adult life, if it is to function at all, demands a moderation of these extremes. From time to time, however, they break out - lava cracking the pumice - and dominate with the same rampaging potency. What is lust, adult lust, after all, but the desire to recapture the heady sensations of adolescent sexuality?

When thety were in the trenches, there was a panic because they thought gas was coming towards them:

I remembered Tuck's lecture. An old man's urine is particularly efficacious.
"I can't piss!" I shouted. I grabbed at his fly buttons.
Louise saw his masked men and panicked. He laid his square of lint beside mine on the firestep, ripped open his trousers and sprayed the two pads with wild arcs of urine.
"Quickly," I yelled, pounding his kidneys with my fists, "Faster!"
It was too late. The gas was on us, sweeping thick and white over the breastwork of the sandbags. Cool, moist, almost refreshing and faintly salt. The first sea mist of spring.

This (and some of the public school bits) reminded me of David Nobbs:

"But what if it had been gas, sir?"
"But it wasn't, so your observation is irrelevant. What school did you go to, Todd? Harrow? Charterhouse?"
"Minto Academy."
"Stands to reason then." He dismissed me.
Some nice turns of phrase:
The late evening sun shone through the small windows turning the room's smoke haze milky, basting the chipped tables and curved chair backs with a rare polished gleam. I moved through a wand of light towards her.
The sun hit the tall windows of the tobacco factory turning them into fabulous golden mirrors.
This reminded me of Iris Murdoch
Do you know that feeling When you meet someone and you know? The sudden hollowing out of your torso, as if your lungs, heart, viscera have gone and the ribs seem to creak like barrel staves under too much pressure.

It was a brilliant book. I'm a bit in awe that he can write about so many different subjects - in this one, WW1, public schools, Rousseau, film making, rugby, the outing of people as communists in the American film industry, and it all sounds like he knows what he's talking about. And there seems to be wisdom in there, e.g. in one section, talking to a German after WW2

"Why did you let him, it, happen?" I asked him. "Couldn't you see?"
"Well, I tell you, John," he said. "One thing about the German people - we're very like the British in this. We have no social courage. That's why we make good soldiers and bad citizens."
"Haven't you? Haven't we?"
"No. Not really. Don't you think it's true? We never complain. Neither do you. It's always a bad sign in a population."

I highlighted this and said "is this right? it sounds good". I'm not sure if it is right or not, but it's a beguiling thing to read.

Completed : 01-Oct-2017

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