Let us start with the river – all things begin with the river and we shall probably end there, no doubt…
No doubt William Boyd knows where it will end. For William Boyd is the creator and he can let loose upon the world a creation fashioned to his liking. Fictions are like that. But life is not. For Boyd (and many other writers), life is the stuff of random events. These events can challenge and make stronger the protagonists. Or they can break them.
Adam Kindred is something of an expert on the study of clouds. A climatologist whose life is unraveling a bit.He’s estranged from his wife after an infidelity, has left America for London, hoping to start fresh again in his ancestral land. A chance meeting and a decision to do a good deed, have far reaching consequences that change his life radically. At a certain point early in the story, there is no turning back. Events will take their course. Kindred is ripped along on the currents, just keeping his head above water. Life can be like that.
But there are connections to. Some prominent and some hidden. Connections such that one can wonder how these connections work to alter the course of random events.
It just proved to him what he had always suspected: that the myriad connections between two discrete lives – close, distant, overlapping, tangential – lie there almost entirely unknown, unobserved, a great unseen network of the nearly, the almost, the might-have-been. From time to time, in everybody’s life, the network is glimpsed for a moment or two and the occasion is acknowledged with a gasp of happy astonishment or a shiver of supernatural discomfort. The complex interrelatedness of human existence could reassure or disturb in equal measure.
These connections, this ineterrelatedness are the yin to random occurences yang. Beneath the spectre of a world of random, unrelated and meaningless events, there is the possibility, the hope of a master plan. Perhaps each of us emphasizes one or the other. Or lean on one at certain periods in our lives, and focus on the other at other times. Life’s dynamics.
If the choice is between keeping out fragile identity intact and survival, which would you choose? Here the choice is clearly survival. Having made that choice, much of the novel shows the consequences of stripping away our identity. Most of us have worked our whole lives to build up this self-identification. When it is lost – of necessity – we long for it back. We sense our emptiness. The urge for recovery is a strong urge.
The story itself concerns industrial espionage, faked scientific research, murder, scapegoating. Kindred is not the only one here who has a fall from grace. Several characters have reversals of fortune, both literally and figuratively. And throughout the novel there is that river – the Thames. The river takes unto itself all of the usual river metaphors, and yes, the novel ends there. Back where it started. Was there ever a doubt?