Ordinary Thunderstorms


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In the most consummate of thrillers, pace is the key; the apparently ceaseless twists and turns leaving the reader happily consenting to improbability, superficiality and slapstick mayhem. By contrast, Ordinary Thunderstorms is almost leisurely, moving between its characters — the cat-and-mouse act of Kindred and Case is interwoven with the stories of, among others, a semi-literate prostitute, a charlatan preacher, pharmaceutical fat cats and the forces of law and order — with diligence and caution, accumulating detail and atmosphere while neglecting the propulsive thrust that can tolerate a few loose ends.

Equally, sub-plots and passages that suggest an ambition towards a state-of-the-nation novel are tantalising but undeveloped. Boyd's Thames-side setting offers an array of opportunities, from offbeat houseboat dwellers to the lawless, alien subculture of a Rotherhithe sink estate, and one senses the author curbing his own desire to stay closer to these shadowy, unpredictable narrative pockets. At the other end of the social scale, a mildly satirical foray into the life of Ingram Fryzer, head of the drug company Calenture-Deutz, sits uncomfortably between comedy of manners and a more serious investigation into the clandestine world of drugs trials a campaigning journalist makes a brief appearance but, unable to stand the story up, beats a retreat so hasty that one wonders how scandals ever see the light of day.

All this indicates that Boyd may need to narrow his focus in order to make his undoubted talents effective, as he did in his last novel, Restless , where espionage yielded a provocative framework in which to examine questions of secret identities and the authenticity of personal relations. But it would be churlish to be entirely dismissive of the attempt.

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Boyd's thriller is by and large competent and eminently readable. It is always interesting to watch writers grapple with different genres — witness John Banville's stylish outings as crime writer Benjamin Black and Ian McEwan's repeated experiments with importing violent antics into his novels. In both these cases, one feels that the authors have worked hard to protect some particular kernel of their work from the predations of a different form, and Boyd has also engaged with that difficulty.

If he has not been completely successful, it is because he has found himself distracted by other ideas and possibilities. That seems too good a thing in a writer to wish away. And Mr Boyd gives little knowing nods to the reader, and uses words that pull you up for a moment - borborygmus? There is the odd slight implausibility, but utterly forgivable in view of the pleasure afforded. Mr Boyd manages to fulfill all the expectations you have of a thriller in an admirably original way. Ian McEwan, eat your heart out. View all 16 comments. Nov 30, Frances rated it it was amazing Shelves: After reading about Wm.

After a few pages I was completely hooked. It is an extraordinary story, excellent plot and has many interesting characters. View all 14 comments. It is May in Chelsea, London. The glittering river is unusually high on an otherwise ordinary afternoon. Adam Kindred, a young climatologist in town for a job interview, ambles along the Embankment, admiring the view. He is pleasantly surprised to come across a little Italian bistro down a leafy side street. During his meal he strikes up a conversation with a solitary diner at the next table, who leaves soon afterwards. With horrifying speed, this chance encounter leads to a series Description: With horrifying speed, this chance encounter leads to a series of malign accidents through which Adam will lose everything - home, family, friends, job, reputation, passport, credit cards, mobile phone - never to get them back.

The police are searching for him. There is a reward for his capture. A hired killer is stalking him. He is alone and anonymous in a huge, pitiless modern city. Adam has nowhere to go but down - underground. He decides to join that vast army of the disappeared and the missing that throng London's lowest levels as he tries to figure out what to do with his life and struggles to understand the forces that have made it unravel so spectacularly.

His quest will take him all along the River Thames, from affluent Chelsea to the sink estates of the East End, and on the way he will encounter all manner of London's denizens - aristocrats, prostitutes, evangelists and policewomen amongst them - and version after new version of himself. William Boyd's electric follow-up to Costa Novel of the Year Restless is a heart-in-mouth conspiracy novel about the fragility of social identity, the corruption at the heart of big business, and the secrets that lie hidden in the filthy underbelly of everyday city.

Soon, in a minute or two, a young man will come and stand by the river's edge, here at Chelsea Bridge, in London. We have flood warnings too. Gleick's Chaos theory started with a 'hands behind the head and whimsy alot in the grass on a hill, looking up' view of the clouds, do you remember that? There is a lot of chaos going on here, and also a lot of 'fate' and 'predestination' a la Buddhism credo.


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This book has the opening quote: Ordinary thunderstorms have the capacity to transform themselves into multi-cell storms of growing complexity. Such multi-cell storms display marked increase in severity and their lifetime can be extended by a factor of ten or more. The grandfather of all thunderstorms, however, is the super-cell thunderstorm. It should be noted that even ordinary thunderstorms are capable of mutating into super-cell storms.

These storms subside very slowly.

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Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd | Book review | Books | The Guardian

Read in one sitting because I just couldn't put this book down, yet there are some sections that are flawed. For instance, were the initial behaviours the actions of a sane man or did Boyd wish to inflict us with the fatalism of The Dice Man for his main character. You can see why I couldn't award that final star, as much as this entertained.

LATER upon the good ship dilemma - many reviews state that it is well known that no-one should touch a murder weapon therefore this tale lacks credibility, yet Dr Wang was not dead when he pleaded for the knife to be removed: View all 6 comments. Jul 07, Kemper rated it really liked it Shelves: That scene has played out so many times in pop entertainment that I think anyone with more than ten working brain cells would instantly know that the one thing you should never do if you find a body is pick up the murder weapon.

Adam is a British climatologist who had been living in the U.


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  • After his job interview, Adam stops for some lunch and strikes up casual conversation with Dr. Wang leaves a file at his table, and Adam decides to do a good deed and return it to him at his hotel. When he arrives at the hotel room, he finds that Wang is dying after being stabbed. With his last breaths, Wang begs Adam to pull out the knife.

    You see where this is going, right? Dumb-ass Adam yanks out the knife, gets himself covered in blood, and Wang promptly dies. This is also exactly what they tell you NOT to do from a medical standpoint if you ever find someone with a knife stuck in them. As Adam hides out by dropping off he grid, other characters become entangled in the events that the murder started. A young prostitute hustles to make the rent and care for her son. But the story does not follow the usual storyline you see in these types of books. This was an exciting story that gives wildly different views of London life. From the richest executives living the high life to the poorest street people, all the characters are fully formed and unique.

    View all 3 comments. Aug 03, Simon Lipson rated it did not like it.

    Ordinary Thunderstorms

    I recently finished reading William Boyd's latest novel, Ordinary Thunderstorms. It took me forever because I kept abandoning it then picking it up again. I mean, surely it couldn't be that awful all the way through to the final page. Somehow, it actually got worse before disappearing up its own bottom with a grim squelch.

    I had to check that this was the same William Boyd who wrote Restless and Armadillo. I'm not Boyd's biggest fan, but have generally foun I recently finished reading William Boyd's latest novel, Ordinary Thunderstorms. I'm not Boyd's biggest fan, but have generally found him to be fairly readable, in a can't-find-anything-else-in-Luton-Airport-Smiths-and-the-plane's-about-to-leave kind of way. He can handle whimsy and more serious themes reasonably well, and there's a level of intelligence that marks him out as a reliable if not exactly must-read author.

    Ordinary Thunderstorms starts off with a ridiculous and seen-it-all-before premise - innocent man witnesses murder when he goes somewhere no sensible or even stupid human being would even think of venturing. He then - surprise, surprise - pulls the knife out of the victim the only person in the western world who's never watched CSI or a million other police procedurals and dithers about informing the police for reasons so inane I can no longer recall them.

    He then goes into hiding - in a tent on a grassy bank alongside the Thames, mind - and becomes feral, vicious and cunning. The guy's a respected meteorologist or something. Doesn't he have any better ideas than that? The casual murder he carries out is as incongruous and silly as the fey, dopey, facile affair he conducts with an investigating policewoman. Sorry if I've ruined it for you but, trust me, I've saved you eight quid and days of ploughing through dung wondering whether it can possibly get any stinkier. Trust me, it does. Pathetic, implausible, lazy, idiotic, cretinous, moronic Ordinary Thunderstorms is an extremely flawed novel.

    It's ostensibly a mystery, but it never completely solves that mystery. The protagonist makes a series of very odd choices that don't strike me as being believable. The ending is kind of a non-ending with a lot of loose threads, yet it's clearly not setting up a sequel. Yet, I give it 4 stars for the beauty of the writing.

    Boyd does an amazing job describing his characters and the setting. He uses an astounding vocabulary, but doesn't sound li Ordinary Thunderstorms is an extremely flawed novel. He uses an astounding vocabulary, but doesn't sound like he's using a thesaurus. The imagery in this book is incredible. It's just the plot that was weak and full of holes.

    I suppose I should have given this book three stars, but I was impressed enough with the word craft to give it an extra. The narration was very good. Gideon Emery puts emphasis on all the right parts, but doesn't sound like he's acting out the part. I liked this book a lot, but it's probably not a good choice for those who want a tight plot and a solid wrap-up in their mysteries. Mar 08, Maddy rated it it was amazing Shelves: After the interview, he is in the mood for an Italian dinner. At the restaurant, he meets another lone diner, with whom he has a brief conversation.

    After the meal, he realizes that the other man, Dr. Philip Wang, has left behind a file folder. Not having anything better to do, Adam decides to return the folder and perhaps share a drink with Philip. But when he enters the apartment, he finds that he has interrupted a murder and that Dr. Wang is in his death throes. He means to go to the police, but is deterred when he is almost attacked at his hotel. From that point on, he is a desperate man on the run, a man who has to give up everything just to survive.

    One of the first things that Adam does is to try to find a safe place to shelter. He builds a little niche for himself by the Chelsea Bridge, and for the first time in his life sleeps rough. He has rapidly moved from thriving professional to scruffy homeless man, leaving behind a life of relative luxury for one with very few assets—and surprisingly not missing his old life very much at all!

    Several encounters with others prove fortuitous, one resulting in his association with the Church of John Christ which provides him to some temporary shelter with a woman who is down on her luck and her young son.


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    • He realizes that most of his problems have to do with the meeting with Wang—what was in the folder that was so threatening that it led to his murder? Boyd did a masterful job of building a suspenseful narrative with a riveting plot and flowing prose. I found the book quite un-putdownable. The preface of the book points out that ordinary thunderstorms have the capacity to transform themselves into multi-cell storms of great ferocity. Feb 21, Brian rated it it was amazing. Immensely enjoyable, Ordinary Thunderstorms is a literary thriller set in the world of global pharamceutical companies and packed with enough plot twists for half a dozen novels.

      It takes the reader on a whistlestop tour of London society, from millionaires to illiterate prostitutes via academics, hospital porters, dissolute lords, police officers and self-styled African bishops. The plot springs into life within the first few pages when, after a chance encounter in a cafe, the hero, Adam Kindred Immensely enjoyable, Ordinary Thunderstorms is a literary thriller set in the world of global pharamceutical companies and packed with enough plot twists for half a dozen novels. The plot springs into life within the first few pages when, after a chance encounter in a cafe, the hero, Adam Kindred, stumbles upon a violent crime.

      From that point on his life will never be the same. I was reminded in places of a Hitchcock film and certainly this novel has all the ingredients. But it's not just thrills and spills. There's also terrific characterisation, some lovely description that you barely register as the need to unwind the plot drives you on, and above all, lots of humour. I took this on holiday and even Ryanair didn't seem too bad. Sep 12, Judy rated it really liked it Recommends it for: He completed a PhD in literature at Oxford. He is to my thinking a hybrid, an intellectual who has written a dozen novels, won awards but is considered British because he lives there part of the time.

      You will see where I am going with this. I have always been curious about his books, though Ordinary Thunderstorms, his 12th novel, is the first I have read. It won't be the last. Recently I have come across several discussions on various lit blogs about highbrow vs lowbrow novels and whether or not literary fiction is passe because it doesn't sell well. Some see a trend where literary authors are trying their hands at genre fiction is an effort to sell more copies of their novels. Others see it as a marketing ploy by publishers in an effort to sell more books. I find most of this speculation to be hogwash, though I am pretty sure marketing personnel are the key suspects.

      After all, it is their job. I think an author should write what he or she wants to write, should experiment, not always write the same story over and over for the sake of fans, income or profits. Basically, if an author can write well, I will read just about any novel by that author despite subject matter or genre. William Boyd has a pretty solid reputation as a literary writer. Ordinary Thunderstorms was marketed as a "literary mystery about crime and punishment. Well, it is tremendously exciting, it does involve murder, crime, the dastardly side of big pharma, and the underbelly of London.

      The violence is brutal and the mystery is complex. Not one truly admirable character inhabits its pages. However, the novel is about identity. Adam Kindred has returned to the country of his birth after many years in the United States. He is in London to interview for a job. A respected and successful climatologist, he has made a mess of his personal life. While he intends to start anew in London he was surely not planning the drastic transformation he undergoes. Within 24 hours he is a prime suspect for a murder he did not commit.

      He makes the decision to go "underground" for a while until he figures out what to do. He goes about as far underground as a person can go in a major metropolis, sleeping in a park, begging for food, and becoming a man with no social identity. In an interview, William Boyd says his intention was to write about what happens to a person who loses everything that makes him who he is.

      One thing that happens is that a person who loses his social identity finds he still has a self. Adam is intelligent, resourceful, often impulsive and foolish, a risk taker where people he cares for are involved. His innate goodness and humanity bring him up against a couple of true psychopathic personalities. His intelligence and something like bravery make him a Dickensian character in a modern world. William Boyd calls no attention to himself as an author, but in straightforward prose tells us a powerful and exciting tale full of heart while it is steeped in all manner of human degradation.

      In no way would I call the novel lowbrow. I suppose one could read it just for the thriller aspect, as Boyd does not write in any sort of wordy or obscure manner. He is certainly several cuts above Brad Thor, David Baldacci, and the like. Does that mean he is highbrow? Jun 25, George K. May 18, Roz Morris rated it did not like it. This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. First let me clarify that this one-star rating is abiding by Goodreads rules - 'did not like it'.

      Not terrible, certainly, but I couldn't say I liked it. Why, especially as I'm a fan of his other novels? First off, I found the premise hard to believe. A man witnesses a murder and seems likely to be framed for it. He's inveigled into touching the murder weapon, leaving his fingerprints, getting covered in blood etc. The actual moment when he's persuaded to do this is realistic enough - the dying m First let me clarify that this one-star rating is abiding by Goodreads rules - 'did not like it'.

      The actual moment when he's persuaded to do this is realistic enough - the dying man simply wants him to pull the knife out. I have no quarrel with that and I found it a powerful emotional moment. But I do quarrel with what happens afterwards. Instead of going to the police and telling his story, as any innocent chap would do, he decides to live rough on a patch of waste ground in Chelsea. This seems extremely hard to believe. Boyd hints later on that his protagonist had depression and was possibly looking for a way to reboot his life.

      But this isn't introduced early enough. It looks as though he thought of it half-way through the writing and scribbled it in. Also, several points seem badly thought through. The murderer, a trained assassin, is supposed to have used a breadknife. Go downstairs now and look at your breadknife. Would you choose that as a stabbing weapon?

      Book Review: 'Ordinary Thunderstorms' by William Boyd

      Not if you had other things at your disposal, and if a house has a breadknife it probably has more serious knives too. And if you were an assassin you could probably use the gun that's also in your pocket. So 'breadknife' seems like Boyd wasn't thinking very hard. Indeed, the assassin seems to be a bit of a bungler, but you're never quite sure if Boyd intends him to be.

      In another scene, he kills a hooker by tossing her into the river, but doesn't make sure she's actually dead. And this isn't so she can then come back and spoil people's plans. But it doesn't look as though Boyd made the assassin either careful enough, or deliberately idiotic. It's just an unconvincing character. Usually, I'll happily settle down with a Boyd because his characters are such singular and interesting people. But in this novel, they seemed thinly drawn.

      Also, there were too many of them, and I think he may have had trouble making them distinct enough. Although plots need red herrings, with people who look significant but aren't, the red herrings here are irritating rather than enriching. There are good points, of course. The protagonist's eventual reboot with a new identity is persuasively done. There are a few clever twists, such as the assassin being arrested, mistaken for the protagonist.

      There's a religious cult that recruits homeless people and gives them all the name 'John'. There are a lot of loose threads that aren't definitively tied up, which echoes the theme of randomness, and mean it works well as a 'slice of time' novel. Not everything can be neatly answered - and that's fine and realistic. But this is also perhaps where the novel's overall flaw might lie. The protagonist is a climatologist before he goes on the run - hence the title 'Ordinary Thunderstorms'. So we're supposed to be aware of how our fortunes can be as changeable as the wind.

      The trouble is, I don't find there was much mileage in that as an idea. Boyd hasn't used it to create an intriguing story world. It seems to be an excuse for a bit of a random and rambling book that could have been better executed. Jan 10, Nick Sweeney rated it liked it. I like William Boyd's writing a lot, and have read everything of his apart from his spoof biography of painter Nat Tate, which I must track down. My favourite WB books are The New Confessions and Any Human Heart, which were both long sagas taking in a lot of events and people through the whole of the twentieth century, and I feel that he pulls off such monumental tasks with great skill.

      So how does I like William Boyd's writing a lot, and have read everything of his apart from his spoof biography of painter Nat Tate, which I must track down. So how does he do with a 'straightforward' thriller? Not so well, in my opinion, though I state here that the book is a fine competitor among other thrillers; that may just be another way of saying that WB has dumbed his style down a bit to get into the thriller genre, and I think a man of his skills shouldn't need to.

      I missed the literary flourishes of his other work, and, occasionally, got annoyed at the thrillerish one-dimensional characters, as if he's sometimes saying 'this character won't be hanging around too long, so you don't need so much information'. So far so North-by-Northwestish. What does such a man do? How does he hide in a place like London? As you do for many thrillers, you have to suspend your disbelief pronto - which I have no problem doing - and enjoy the ride. Respectable Adam Kindred - rather Bunyanesque name, I thought, and kind of disapproved of WB trying a bit too hard to convince us that Adam is an ordinary bloke - has to not only hide from the law and the brutal killer the company has sent after him, but, in time-honoured fashion, has to solve the crime, and the scam at its centre, himself, as nobody else will.

      And I did enjoy the ride, and am sorry if this sounds a bit scathing, but I look forward to the next WB with the hope that he gets back to 'being literary'. Apr 09, Iain Rowan rated it it was ok. I'm not quite sure what Boyd was going for here: Neither worked, for me, and it left the book as an uncomfortable amalgam of the two. I'm a sucker for stories about identity, and about missing people, but part of the reason this disappointed was that the protagonist was rather flat, and I never felt as if I got inside his skin. Some of the secondary characters were the same, from the ex-SAS coldhearted killer to the prostitute with a heart of gold, spe I'm not quite sure what Boyd was going for here: Some of the secondary characters were the same, from the ex-SAS coldhearted killer to the prostitute with a heart of gold, speaking in cliche, acting perfectly within stereotype.

      I liked the way London was drawn in the book, and Boyd's ingenuity in creating Kindred's life off the grid, and eventual assumption of a new identity. Too many themes seemed to offer interest the maritime police, the church , but they were never given space to develop, and so became rather mundane and obvious hooks on which to hang a particular plot device. I still read it to the end, because I wanted to know how it turned out. But when I got there, I didn't feel that the time spent had been worth it. Oct 17, Bill Khaemba rated it liked it Shelves: But i really enjoyed the book considering its was read in one day, thrilling and amazing.

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