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Trio Reviews

Trio by William Boyd


William Boyd

3.87 out of 5

13 reviews

Imprint: Knopf Publishing Group
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 8 Oct 2020
ISBN: 9780593318232

A producer. A novelist. An actress. It's summer 1968--a time of war and assassinations, protests and riots. While the world is reeling, our trio is involved in making a disaster-plagued, Swingin' Sixties British movie in sunny Brighton. All are leading secret lives. As the movie shoot zigs and zags, these layers of secrets become increasingly more untenable. Pressures build inexorably. The FBI and CIA get involved. Someone is going to crack--or maybe they all will. From one of Britain's best loved writers comes an exhilarating, tender novel--by turns hilarious and heartbreaking--that asks the vital questions: What makes life worth living? And what do you do if you find it isn't?

  • The BooksellerEditor's Choice
4 stars out of 5
Alice O'Keeffe
3 Jul 2020

"Latest from the wonderful Boyd is a skilfully woven tale of three people"

Latest from the wonderful Boyd is a skilfully woven tale of three people: Elfrida, a novelist with writer's block and a drinking problem; Talbot Kydd, a debonair film producer, married and hiding his sexuality; and Anny Viklund, a glamorous young American film star with a very dodgy ex-husband. All are connected by "Emily Bracegirdle's Extremely Useful Ladder to the Moon", a "Swinging Sixties" film shooting in Brighton in the summer of 1968. As filming progresses (and the novel is fascinating on the practicalities), the extent of their secret lives are revealed.


4 stars out of 5
Max Liu
30 Oct 2020

"Trio is affecting as a subtle exploration of the relationship between individuals and history"

Boyd’s prose is as fluent as ever, but it’s the ideas pulsing beneath the surface of the story that distinguish Trio. “I wasn’t really engaged with what was going on, not analysing it on a nightly basis,” says one character when Talbot mentions the riots in Paris during the summer of ’68. Boyd shows that even in periods of radical upheaval — when attitudes to sexuality, class and race are shifting — the impact of world events is not immediately obvious to individuals.

5 stars out of 5
Allan Massie
25 Oct 2020

"Trio is a delight, one of Boyd’s best novels"

Here he has set himself the task of exploring three lives linked only by fortuitous circumstances while including them in a coherent narrative. It is a juggling act and he doesn’t drop a single ball. Trio is, as I say, a comic novel but one which is rich enough to admit sadness. There is exuberant comedy in, for instance, a ludicrous party given by a falsely-Falstaffian “Great Actor,” but there is also pain, misery, perplexity and grief. Boyd moves from one register to another without striking a false note. His sympathy for his characters is rooted in the recognition that most of us know ourselves imperfectly and seek to keep even this imperfect knowledge from others.

4 stars out of 5
Edward Docx
24 Oct 2020

"superbly wry and wise and funny and truthful"

The balance of plot movement and interiority is also perfectly calibrated – action and ideas, drama and sensibility, stuff happening and people thinking. The reader is neither bored nor taken for an idiot. Meanwhile, everything is laced with an understated but refreshingly sophisticated wit. This is delivered in part through the sensibility of Wing, who thinks that Kydd is “groomed to impenetrability”, and reflects grimly on the “remorseless, breezy tedium” of her brother’s life; and in part through the dialogue of Kydd who, when asked by the director why he has a split lip, deadpans that he “was punched in the face by a French Philosopher” – the extra layer of irony being that this is true.

5 stars out of 5
Alexander Larman
20 Oct 2020

"Such brilliantly drawn, often grotesque characters make Trio Boyd’s funniest book since 1998’s Armadillo"

Such brilliantly drawn, often grotesque characters make Trio Boyd’s funniest book since 1998’s Armadillo. I especially relished the horrible, Charles Hawtrey-esque actor Ferdie Meares, whose cameo in one of the film’s pivotal scenes is complicated by his insisted-upon right to deliver his dire comic catchphrase: “I’m excited! Are you?” Boyd, a screenwriter and occasional director himself, beautifully captures the chaos and exhilaration of a shambolic film set, in which unforeseen disasters andskulduggery create their own opportunities and problems... As ever with Boyd, the allusions delight, although calling the film’s original screenwriter Andrew Marvell is perhaps a little self-satisfied. But where Trio succeeds beautifully is in its creation of a phantasmagorical, dope- and alcohol-saturated world, in which Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park is always playing in the background. 

4 stars out of 5
11 Oct 2020

"Trio is immensely readable, its descriptions full of light and colour, its humour spot on"

Like every book with a performance at its centre, Trio is about the roles people play – and what happens when public and private lives collapse into one another. Talbot is hiding his sexuality, managing his “Tod in Venedig moments” in his Primrose Hill flat. He ponders the disconnect between the two Talbots, noting that in Japanese, “apparently there was a word for the self that existed in the private realm and another, completely different, word for the self that existed in the world”.


4 stars out of 5
Brian Martin
11 Oct 2020

"William Boyd is one of our best contemporary storytellers"

Boyd’s imagery is entertainingly vivid. The literary agent sits back and reveals ‘the medicine ball that was his belly’. Kydd suffers ‘the sonic version’ of the suburbs — ‘barking dogs, the annoying buzz of an electric hedge-trimmer, the chimes of a distant ice cream van’. Deception is needed to keep inner lives private. Kydd is assaulted by the Algerian philosopher. Various excuses are given for a split lip: he ‘slipped getting out of the bath’, ‘a squash racket hit him in the mouth’.

Trio embraces comedy, tragedy and redemption. It succeeds impressively because of its dramatic, often sensational, revelations.

3 stars out of 5
Laura Freeman
7 Oct 2020

"William Boyd has great fun imagining three lives in 1968"

Reading William Boyd’s Trio is like shrugging on a favourite worn leather jacket on the first brisk morning of autumn: cosy but cool. Boyd, not only a prolific novelist (A Good Man in AfricaAn Ice-Cream WarAny Human Heart), but also a playwright and screenwriter, has enormous fun with the worlds — and egos — of page and screen.

4 stars out of 5
Martin Chilton
6 Oct 2020

"The book explores a turbulent world through the intersecting lives of three characters"

All three main characters have secrets and problems that are about to turn their lives upside down. Boyd keeps the plot racing along – bringing in minor characters who include a perverted actor, dodgy film financiers, and a CIA operative hunting a terrorist bomber – yet for all the twists, the real delight is in William Boyd’s wry portrait of a bygone age, an evolving era in terms of drugs and sexual rights. 

4 stars out of 5
Peter Kemp
4 Oct 2020

"an elating read"

In a thriller-like narrative about an insurance expert obsessed with armoury, Boyd’s 1998 novel Armadillo explored the urge to feel safely shielded and the way a social carapace can become more encumbrance than protection. Triotreats the same themes in a more relaxed style. Although one of its storylines takes a darker turn than might have been expected, its prevailing tone is jaunty and its conclusion optimistic. Full of neat phrases (“Brighton’s gull-clawed air”) and quirkily funny scenes (between takes naked actors in a porn film grouse about the rise in local vandalism), it’s an elating read.

3 stars out of 5
Stephanie Cross
3 Oct 2020

"Boyd has tremendous fun "

Boyd has tremendous fun as the three characters converge on a beleaguered film-shoot in Swinging Sixties Brighton, and even finds a cameo part for Leonard Woolf. After some perfunctory imbroglios, the plot gradually probes more existential concerns. But while never less than diverting, Trio, like its characters, ultimately leaves little in the way of an impression.

2 stars out of 5
Claire Allfree
1 Oct 2020

"In short, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that in writing this novel, his heart simply wasn't in it. "

Boyd is known for his immersive approach to history yet beyond the occasional reference to Vietnam, riots in Paris and the times they are a changing, you'd barely realise Trio is set in 1968, or even on a film set, come to that. Moreover, his knack for conjuring an engaging yarn seems to have deserted him. Much of the book, as the filming rumbles on, is padding – endless needless descriptions and she said this and then he did thats; long winded encounters with people who have scant bearing on the story; narrative detours that go nowhere.

4 stars out of 5
Ian Critchley
1 Oct 2020

"an immensely enjoyable novel, full of narrative verve"

In time, Elfrida feels that she is able to write again and is full of excitement at her new idea and the renewed joy of creation. She tells her agent, ‘If you want to know what human beings are like, actually like, if you want to know what’s going on in their heads behind those masks we all wear – then read a novel.’ This is as close as Boyd gets to a literary manifesto, though I’m not convinced his argument is entirely borne out in this book – the world he describes is full of rarefied characters whose wealth insulates them from ‘real’ life, and one of the very few working-class characters, a scaffolder named Gary Hicksmith, is sketchily realised. Yet overall this is an immensely enjoyable novel, full of narrative verve.