Trio, by William Boyd

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Intelligent, accessible, and entertaining – William Boyd’s Trio was always going to be one of the novels of the year. Boyd is often rightly lauded for his craftsmanship, in relation to the structure and style of his works, but not enough credit is given to him for his broad sense of humour.

The humour in Trio is sly and satirical, but never spiteful. Boyd is mischievous, without being malicious. One may argue that the film and publishing industries are ripe for satire – and populated by absurd characters. But Boyd writes with an affection and insight which draws the reader in. He is amused, rather than acerbic. The book is not without wit and wisdom. Trio may be Boyd’s most Chekhovian novel to date.

Trio concerns itself with three main characters: Talbot (a film producer, keeping a secret or two), Elfrida (a novelist, in the process of losing her husband and talent) and Anna (an actress, with a bright future ahead and a past which is about to catch up with her). Each character is a tapestry of lies, secrets and conceits. We are allowed into their interior lives, as well as see the people they project out into the world. Talbot, Elfrida and Anna are both ordinary and extraordinary, like many of the people reading about them.

There were a number of lines and pearls of wisdom scattered throughout the novel which gave me pause – such as, ‘We cannot control most aspects of our lives, he thought, but those we can try to control, or at least influence, we should protect and cherish.’ At the same time, however, there are plenty of page-turning elements to the novel. There are twists, obstacles to overcome and a cast list of colourful secondary characters. We want to find out what happens to these people because we grow to like and care for them in spite of, or because of, their secrets and flaws.

There will be an added interest and attraction for those readers interested in the movie industry. Boyd creates a world which is both similar and different to the film business today. The filmset is populated with petty egos, drug dependant actresses, priapic directors and screenwriters creating last minute fixes. Brighton, the setting of the novel, has never seemed so glamorous or tawdry.

Trio does not establish Boyd as one of Britain’s best novelists (he already possesses that title), but it does enhance his standing.

Richard Foreman is an author and publisher. His books include Warsaw, Spies of Rome and Crusaders.