Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd

William Boyd is a British novelist,  Scottish by descent, born in Accra (Ghana) in 1952.  He lived his early life in Ghana and Nigeria. He was educated in Scotland and  France. He completed a PhD in literature at Oxford. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005.

His first novel, Good Man in Africa was published in 1981. In 1983 he was selected by Granta Magazine ( Cambridge’s ) as one of the 20 « Best young British novelists ». He is the recipient of many literary awards.

In  1998 Boyd published a hoax: a big novel about a fictious painter called Nat Tate (abbrevation of National Gallery & Tate Gallery ) who was depicted as an American artist who actually never existed. A number of prominent members of the art world claimed to remember the artist… ( the singer David Bowie was in  on the joke).

I’ve read many of William Boyd’s novels and it has been some time since I’ve read one.  Although I can’t speak much about each one, one thing I remember is I did not like them all the same.  Yet with all great novelists, one CANNOT keep quality at the same level all the time.

Ordinary Thunderstorms was published in 2009 and the title  comes  from the profession of the main character of the novel, Adam Kindred who is a climatologist.   It’s Boyd’s 12th novel,  written like a thriller with short chapters which makes the story very dynamic. The plot is  about a man, Adam Kindred, a climatologist searching for a new job in London. While dining in a restaurant in London,  he meets  an immunologist,  Philip Wang,   who intentionnally leaves some files containing important charges against the dishonest pharmaceutical industry.

The pharmaceutical company  Doctor Wang is working for, has just found a new drug for asthma called Zembla-4, which will treat the disease all over the world and thus having the potential to make billions in profits for the company shareholders.

Dr Wang discovered that many children died in intensive care during the trials but the company withheld the publishing of these bad results.  Doctor Wang is murdered in f’ront of Adam’s very eyes. Not only is he a witness he now possesses this crucial and incriminating information and must run for his life. In doing so and to insure his safety Adam Kindred must leave behind his identity.

Ordinary Thunderstorms is a page-turner, a thriller giving wildly different views of London life. It is perfect suspense story about identity, loosing identity for a person under dramatic circomstances where the only way to avoid detection in a modern twenty-first century city is to take no advantage of the services it offers: telephonic, financial, social, transportational, welfare-related and so on. If you make no calls, pay no bills, have no address, never vote, watch carefully where you go, make no credit card transactions or use no cash point machines, do not seek outside services whatsoever, then you slip beneath the modern world’s  cognizance. YEAH, you do nothing, so there’s no trail. No checks, no bills, no references, no mobile phone calls but only payphones, NOTHING. That’s how you disappear in the twenty-first century: you just refuse to to take part of it.

I think the end of the novel is a kind of rush job because after following Adam Kindred all over his descent to hell, the story vanishes rapidly into nothing. And even if Adam has to kill a poor guy to survive, we cannot acccept this ethically, especially since he is also  having a new love affair with a British police woman. How could she accept this and feel confident with Adam Kindred ?

ORDINARY THUNDERSTORMS, Bloomsbury 2009, ISBN 978-1-4088-0285-4

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