Many of us have been blinded by love, but what happens when you never see clearly again? That is the topic of Love is Blind, the latest novel by one of Britain’s favourite writers, William Boyd.
Set at the end of the 19th century, it follows the story of Brodie Moncur, a young Scottish musician who sets off on a journey of discovery, only to be thrown off course by a mysterious woman.
Boyd, the author of Any Human Heart and Restless, is a masterful storyteller and this, his 14th novel, is characteristically compelling and difficult to put down.
Here, the prolific author shares his inspirations.
Your novels often involve journeys — is this reflective of your having lived in many different countries?
“I suspect it is. Having been born and raised in West Africa I found the UK somewhat uninspiring as a writer, initially. ‘Abroad’ always seems to me more interesting, somehow. Maybe that’s because I’m deracinated, I don’t really know where I can call home.”
You use multiple locations and historical time periods. Does this add a lot of research time to your creative process?
“Yes, it does. I always take twice as long to think up and research a novel than to write it — two years figuring out, one year writing. You can’t just shovel in all your research — you look for the details that do a lot of work for you and that takes time. It can be a place, a historical period, a profession. It has to seem utterly authentic and plausible.”
You also clearly adore the period of the 1890s to early 1900s, would you have liked to have lived in this literary golden age?
“It is an attractive time. Think of fin de siècle Paris, Vienna, Berlin … except I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed going to the dentist in fin de siècle Paris, Vienna, Berlin. I’m quite happy in the here and now and can send my imagination time-travelling whenever I want.”
Where did the idea for Brodie Moncur come from?
“It’s hard to say. I’m not an autobiographical writer. I make things up. I wanted Brodie to seem like someone who might have come from a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. That kind of resourceful young man whose dreams send him on a voyage of personal discovery. In the process I threw in bits of my memories. His Scottish home is where I lived in my youth when we came back from Africa on leave. Those Scottish landscapes are as imprinted on my memory as much as my African ones.”
Brodie spends his life loyally sticking to his idea of true love — to his own downfall. Do you think he was right to do so?
“The subtitle of the novel is key here: The Rapture of Brodie Moncur. When Brodie falls in love with Lika he is in a state of rapture and in that state, you are not really in control of your destiny. In a way, Brodie has no choice — he’s enraptured, his heart belongs to Lika, immutably.”
His dysfunctional relationship with his father was clearly a motivating factor in his desire to escape. He never dwelled on his emotions about this, though. Do you think this is a male trait to just get on with things?
“I think having a monstrous father figure in your life either ruins you or liberates you. Brodie is liberated because he doesn’t succumb to Malky Moncur’s baleful power and influence. There is no way he is going to brood on this monster. He has his own life to lead. It may be a father/son thing but I suspect it could be a father/daughter thing also.”
There was a whole other story to be told about Brodie’s father and siblings. Are you tempted to tell that story in another novel?
“I can’t see myself writing a sequel. My influence here is Chekhov, who is one of the two literary ghosts in Love is Blind. In Chekhov you are always aware of what is going on outside the story or the play — a sense that there are ramifications and narratives beyond the principle narrative.”
You have had a long and glorious career — how do you keep coming up with new ideas on such a regular basis? Are you quite disciplined?
“I am disciplined and I work hard, seven days a week. I think in my case it’s because I’m a writer who uses his imagination, who invents: that’s what is important. As long as my imagination is functioning well I will always come up with new stories.”
Do you have another novel brewing?
“I do. I have it all figured out. I’m kind of raring to go.”
Love is Blind, Viking, $32.99, is out now