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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



William Boyd

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To purchase Fascination

Title: Fascination
Author: William Boyd
Genre: Stories
Written: 2004
Length: 277 pages
Availability: Fascination - US
Fascination - UK
Fascination - Canada
Fascination - India
  • Some of these stories were previously published in The New Yorker, Areté, Granta, and elsewhere
  • The UK edition of Fascination apparently includes sixteen stories; the US edition only fourteen. "Lunch" and "Loose Continuity" are the stories missing from the American edition.

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Our Assessment:

B- : written well enough, but most of the stories are too insubstantial

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 9/10/2004 M. John Harrison
The Independent . 4/11/2004 James Urquhart
The LA Times . 9/1/2005 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/1/2005 David Gates
The Observer . 3/10/2004 Tim Adams
Salon . 24/1/2005 Amy Reiter
San Francisco Chronicle A 16/1/2005 David Abrams
The Spectator . 30/10/2004 William Brett
Sunday Telegraph A 17/10/2004 David Robson
TLS . 29/10/2004 Josh Lacey
The Village Voice . 5/1/2005 Ed Park
The Washington Post . 21/1/2005 Carolyn See

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, with some very impressed, others baffled

  From the Reviews:
  • "He believes we encode ourselves as our own compulsive or repetitive actions, then act out our characters by acting out of character. As demonstrations of this, the stories collected here are perfect. They would seem a little too perfect if they weren't also suffused with an understanding of love, desire and emotional incompetence. Behind the comedy and the stacked sleights of hand, vulnerable people can be seen quite clearly, blundering about trying to make contact with one another; personal disaster lurks and real lives are lost." - M. John Harrison, The Guardian

  • "Several of these tales are excellent. My biggest disquiet about Fascination is that only about a third of the stories are distinctively good. This is not enough. Most are adequate; one ("Beulah Berlin, an A-Z") is just terrible." - James Urquhart, The Independent

  • "But William Boyd's new collection of stories, Fascination, baffles me so much I'm not sure I even know what kind of stories they are. (...) Often, I simply can't tell how he means these pieces to work: why they end where they end, why they start where they start -- or, for that matter, why they start at all. But if he wants them to do what I want a story to do -- to please the reader aesthetically, to move him emotionally, to pique her intellectually -- they don't work for me." - David Gates, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Beneath the gimmickry, the stories tend to turn on the quickening of desire and its complicated frustration. Boyd's prose moves like a voyeur's gaze in a crowd. It lights quickly on a face or a gesture, conjures a possible scene, and goes on to the next without ever quite settling. The discursiveness of some of the notebook-style tales exaggerates this sense of attention-deficit." - Tim Adams, The Observer

  • "There are strata within strata here on these pages. (...) Some readers -- especially those turned off by Woody Allen films -- might find this collection unbearably full of self-indulgent anxiety. However, it's easy to be impressed by the way Boyd turns angst into art and consistently makes it a fresh experience from story to story. (...) His breadth and depth and control are simply breathtaking here and throughout the entire collection." - David Abrams, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(F)or those who enjoy what might loosely be called canapé fiction -- delicious little morsels that whet the appetite but never sate it -- Fascination is a must-read book. Every one of the 16 stories has the patina of craftsmanship. (...) Fascination is an impressively sophisticated offering from a writer whose charms never wane." - David Robson, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Fascination often feels like a determined attempt to be unpindownable. Each story in the collection pushes the form in a different direction. (...) This range of voices and styles is admirable and impressive, but never satisfying. (...) For admirers of his fiction, this volume will provide a useful insight into his creative method and a diversion until the next novel, but these sketches do not stand comparison with his weightier work." - Josh Lacey, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Most of these elegant, sometimes pretentious stories by William Boyd deal not simply with art vs. life but with the terrible demands that art makes upon the artist -- the human who, despite his or her lofty calling, may be a second-rate ninny, barely able to tie his or her shoes, let alone produce an object that may elevate the human race." - Carolyn See, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       William Boyd's collection of stories doesn't have quite the pull one would hope for, given the title. Boyd writes well -- confidently, easily -- but too many stroies don't really go anywhere, and some that do are too obvious.
       Boyd uses a variety of styles and approaches. The stories are all broken up into shorter sections, some just broken up slightly -- a bigger space between sections of a more or less continuous story -- while others jump back and forth in time or perspective. Incandescence, for example, has the many characters move the story along, each telling the next bit from their perspective. In Adult Video the narrator uses the various VCR possibilities -- <<REWIND>>, <<PLAY>>, etc. -- in giving his account.
       The collection isn't dominated by one single type, but the characters -- first person narrators, most of the time -- tend to be more or less isolated figures, unable to connect with others. The opposite sex, in particular, is a problem (with one or two exceptions), though there is also, for example, a doctor-patient relationship (with the same problem of not being able to connect and understand the other). Many of the central figures are artists, and many of the stories in variations of diary-form. Identities aren't fixed, names remain unknown or are changed.
       One character writes:

I realize now that it is the utter inadequacy of human contacts that makes me turn to art. I know why I became a novelist: only in fiction is everything about other people explained,. Only in our fiction is everything sure and certain.
       Boyd wants to belie this theory: many of these stories leave much that is uncertain. But there's also a sense that he doesn't quite like it so: there are novels in these stories, but he wouldn't let them grow into that, leaving them stunted like this.
       A few stories are more substantial, but in The Ghost of a Bird, for example, he spoils things by spelling out what he's after all too clearly. The story suggests it all, yet he still feels compelled to tie it up too neatly, summing up:
That part of his undamaged brain that most sustained him had been a memory of something his imagination had once produced. His imagination had not been damaged by the shrapnel that had penetrated the back of his head and what became real to Gerald Gault was a consoling phantasm, a dream, an urgent wish. It was more solid and tangible to him than the fragmented physical world that he found so hard to shape and comprehend.
       It's an odd collection of stories with similarities but not really connected, and few that stand truly satisfactorily on their own.

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Fascination: Reviews: William Boyd: Other books by William Boyd under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       English author William Boyd was born in Ghana in 1952. Educated at the universities of Nice, Glasgow, and Oxford, he was also a lecturer at Oxford. Author of numerous novels he has won practically every major British literary award, save the Booker (for which he has been short-listed).

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© 2005-2012 the complete review

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