By William Boyd
At a time when the competition is admittedly pretty weak, William Boyd has established a reputation as one of the bright lights of English comic fiction.
Armadillo, which refers here to a “little armed man” and not an edentate mammal, deals with the adventures of Lorimer Black (formerly Milomre Blocj), a loss adjuster for a London insurance company. The plot involves, in no particular order, a hanged man, a dream analysis clinic, an insurance scam, Lorimer’s pursuit of a married woman (Flavia Malinverno), and a comedy of manners starring an upper-class twit named Torquil Helvoir-Jayne. Along the way we are treated to selections from Lorimer’s Book of Transfiguration, a journal filled with quotations from Gerard de Nerval and digressions on the philosophy of insurance.
The silly names and overly complex plot indicate that Boyd belongs to the group of writers, sometimes called postmodern, who take a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the novel. The writing itself has its ups and downs. Boyd’s sense of place is surprisingly poor (his London is scarcely more than a city map), but his dialogue has the fast-paced wit typical of the best of his contemporary hipsters. A novel as light as this can be read in an afternoon, and most of the time it will be enjoyed.
Unfortunately, this is as far as it goes. Armadillo is funny, but its attempt to be something more falls flat. The characters, with the exception of Lorimer, are two-dimensional, the symbolism is forced, and nothing about the story is very compelling. Boyd’s talents, which are real, should have been put to a better use than this.
Review first published May 30, 1998.