Knopf. Jan. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780593318232. $27.95. F
Set in the summer of 1968, Boyd’s novel concerns three characters: Anny Viklund, an up-and-coming American actress with a pill habit and a checkered past who is in England filming a movie; Elfrida Wing, a once-successful novelist, dubbed “the new Virginia Woolf” by the press, who assuages a decade long writer’s block with a secret alcohol habit and is floundering through a failing marriage with Reggie, the film’s director; and Talbot Kidd, the film’s producer and repressed homosexual hesitantly coming to terms with his true nature. The narrative proceeds in a wryly comic vein with Anny falling for costar Troy, Elfrida potentially overcoming her writer’s block with a novel about Virginia Woolf’s last day, and Talbot meeting an attractive young scaffolder repairing his house—until Anny’s former husband, Cornell Weekes, a wanted terrorist, reenters her life and the story takes a darker turn. Anny implicates herself by giving him money, and the situation soon devolves into chaos, on the set and otherwise.
VERDICT With finely delineated characters and a deft comic touch, Costa Prize winner Boyd (Restless) precisely skewers the absurdity of the movie business while sending his trio of characters toward a not uniformly pleasant reckoning with truer versions of themselves.

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