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The New Confessions

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  1,109 ratings  ·  67 reviews
In this extraordinary novel, William Boyd presents the autobiography of John James Todd, whose uncanny and exhilarating life as one of the most unappreciated geniuses of the twentieth century is equal parts Laurence Stern, Charles Dickens, Robertson Davies, and Saul Bellow, and a hundred percent William Boyd.

From his birth in 1899, Todd was doomed. Emerging from his angst-
Paperback, 480 pages
Published October 10th 2000 by Vintage (first published September 28th 1987)
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Andrew Smith
I'm a big fan of William Boyd. He’s a writer who produces one-off novels that can surprise, entertain and sometimes prompt the reader to think rather more deeply on a subject than they otherwise might. I don't always like his books – I disliked Armadillo intensely – but I can never fault the quality of his writing. And he can produce stories that grab you and haul you through its pages and spit you out at the end breathless and panting for more. Brazzaville Beach is a case in point.

So how did
Andrew Trimboli
I didn't think it possible to like another Boyd more than I did Any Human Heart, and how wrong I was. TNC, without being hyperbolic, is probably the most startlingly epic piece of story telling I've ever come across. Within pages I'd forgot all about Logan Mountstuart and was utterly submerged in Todd's unrelenting and lifelong plight for true love and a life devoid of calamity. It's incomprehensible how Boyd stitched this whole thing up so perfectly. Superficially he's part linguist, part philo ...more
I first read this when I was living in France and was desperate for something to read in English. This was on a local bookshelf and I tore through it in two days. I've re-read it 5 times. Boyd's other books are a joy as well but 'Confessions' is definitely one of my all-time favorites.
A 20th Century Masterpiece. So utterly convincing at times you wonder if it's all true! William Boyd seems equally at home depicting scenes of domestic drudgery or the glamourous life of the artist in pre-war Berlin. Pathos, farce, tragedy, it's all here. there are some brilliant passages describing life in the trenches of the First World War evoking the horror, boredom, futility and heroism of life on the Western Front. Equally well written are the laugh out loud sections.

The book is written in
Robert W
I recently reread The New Confessions by William Boyd. This is one of my favorite books, and rereading it is always a pleasure. That can't be said about a lot of books, even ones I liked a lot the first time around. The Baron in the Trees also has that quality, and they have an unusual connection in that each touches on the European Enlightenment.

The New Confessions is about a peripatetic English filmmaker whose career reminds one a little of Abel Gance here, Luis Bunuel there, with some D.W. Gr
Ginny Allan
Oops, wait, *this* is the best William Boyd to date, while Any Human Heart, similar in some ways to this one, is a close second.
Huw Rhys
What makes a brilliant book?

A compelling narrative, leading to an illuminating conclusion?

Characters who are engrossing, and who we can identify with as being either a bit like ourselves, or like other people we've come across in real life?

Writing which invokes a sense of place and time - sometimes a place once visited, often a time never personally experienced?

Clever use of metaphor and imagery which are able to take us, the reader, to another place to ponder on the pattern of life?

And then tha
Boyd has produced a magisterial account of one man’s obsession to produce an artistic piece of cinematic homage in dedication to his inspiration, Rousseau’s ‘Confessions’. The protagonist, as in so many of Boyd’s novels, is a deeply flawed character, whose critical eye on those surrounding him does not extend to his own narcissistic tendencies, and whose disregard for the distress he causes others displays the same cold aloofness which his own surgeon father had shown him. John James Todd, never ...more
William Boyd is not the kind of writer who wows you or hits you over the head with his writing, but ever so subtly he draws you into the story and before you know it you are half way through and wanting more. John James Todd, the fictional autobiographer, begins the narration with his birth in 1899. Each chapter closes in 1972 with words from the present day protagonist as he assesses himself at age 73 looking back on his life which took him to both World Wars and to America. A seminal moment fo ...more
Ginni Dickinson
William Boyd brings to life the turbulence of both world wars and the red scare in this novel through the eyes of a creative and narcissistic filmmaker who never gets recognized as the genuis he is. It took me quite a while to really like this book. The main character, John James Todd, is so flawed. But eventually I developed empathy for him and wanted to see how his life would play out. I really enjoy Boyd's writing. His method of developing a story through the eyes of an unlikable or flawed ch ...more
Boyd's masterful writing embodies everything I look for in a book. His original plots, combination of serious subject matter interspersed with humor, and all too human characters with their many foibles, make for enjoyable reading. I loved the background of early cinematography and the textured layers of John James Todd.
It will be interesting to see what he does with James Bond in "Solo" to be published soon. I trust he will bring uniqueness to a well-worn subject.
This book bears re-reading. It is effectively a social history of the first half of the twentieth century. I wish I was familiar with "The Confessions" by Jean Jacques Rousseau, because I am sure I missed many parallels between the two books and the lives of their authors, one real, one fictional.
Ruth Seeley
I've read it twice. It was just as compelling the second time.
This is a reimagining of The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and is set during the first half of the 20th century. It is ‘the confessions’ of John James Todd who is an utterly self absorbed man with few redeeming features. Although this is the point - it is a bare-truth Rousseau-styled ‘autobiography’ - it doesn’t make it any easier to read. Todd has more lives than a cat and every time he destroys his opportunities there is someone waiting round the corner to save him.

The language was over
John Bowen
Not just my favourite of Boyd's books, one of my top five all time favourite novels.

The life of John James Todd is never less than incredible, darkly comic and enthralling, soaked through with wit, memorable characters and period detail, this fictional autobiography of an unsung silent movie auteur is simply magnificent.

The great war, ensuing german depression, the (for Todd) unwelcome birth of talkies and the impact of McCarthyism are delivered so convincingly if you tore the cover off and lent
Alan Stewart
William Boyd's The New Confessions is a quite awe inspiring project. An awkward genuinely intriguing main character, John James Todd, has an obsessive personality. His life spans an era of immense turbulence ... wealth, war, destitution, love, the slings and arrows proliferate ..

Born at the start of the 20th Century Todd's story is a kaleidoscope of chance and coincidence. We thread our way from formal intimidating beginnings in Edinburgh through a peculiar schooling to the full-on horror reali
Elizabeth Wood
Fictional Autobiography
Similar to Any Human Heart in many ways, I didn't think it was quite as good. A film director lives his life through the 20th century his ambitions being continually foiled by bigger events. I was fully convinced by the main character even though I disliked him intensely
Written as an autobiography of John James Todd, this book reminded me a little of Any Human Heart because of its wide scope. The book wasn't as interesting but still very good.
This book was my introduction to William Boyd and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The title refers to The Confessions of Rousseau, but Boyd's protagonist, John James Todd is much more likeable, if not more interesting, than Jean Jacques. The book relates Todd's life over much of the twentieth century in autobiographical style. The voice is arresting while Boyd's ability as a true storyteller carries you along as he narrates the adventures of Todd. You simultaneously experience major events of the twent ...more
Cormac Farrell
Like Andrew before me, I didn't think that Boyd would come close to Any Human Heart. But this book comes very close. This format, the fictional autobiography is definitely Boyd's most impressive genre. A life stitched together between bouts of professional and personal ineptitude of a man utterly convinced of his own genius. Funny wise and intelligent.
I have to admit I love fictional autobiographies, especially when the background covers fascinating years of the 20th Century. I adored Margaret Forster's Diary of an Ordinary Woman and Boyd's The New Confessions treads similar ground successfully, for the most part. The protagonist, John James Todd, conveniently born in 1899 sees action in both World Wars, but his true contribution to history are his various unattributed inventions in silent cinema. At the same time, his relationships and emo ...more
Ted Newell
Had to give up at the start of his WW1, first time around. I thought, maybe if I d read J J R's original this traipse through time would be more compelling. Then, while writing on Rousseau May 2014 the parallels offered by Boyd rang loud and clear and I could hardly put it down. Picaresque like Don Quixote. Weird end. The whole really adds up to nothing much but it seems as if that's the way Boyd wants to show life. A big collection of could have beens by a has-been. The protagonist is not attra ...more
Brilliant. Just as good as Any Human Heart and much more depth than his more recent novels. Exceptionally good ending.
Manda Graham
I found The New Confessionals really engaging in parts but then also found it wandered off and I lost interest in quite a few sections. The style as another reviewer has said is very similar to Any Human Heart, which also uses William Boyd's clever, chatty style to better effect than used in this book.

I wouldn't say this is my favourite of Boyd's work, though I still have a lot to read, and as there are lots of his other books to read I don't think I will be recommending it to any but the most c
Oriana Wilmott
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah Anderson
I was reading this on my kindle - which means it only gets read on tube and bus journeys - but I found it compelling with an unexpected ending.
This is only the second novel I've read by William Boyd so I'm not wholly qualified to critique or comment. Here is what I can say: I think he is one of the best writers I have read ... Use of language, pace etc. few others paint such pictures with words. I think Boyd's main characters (Morgan Leafy in "A Good Man On Africa" and James Todd in this book) are difficult characters for me to empathize with and so sometimes I struggled to pick up the book. But the skilled writing brought me back each ...more
Vit Babenco
The New Confessions is a long and tortuous journey through life and art and the novel is wondrously innovative.
“The world and its people spin along with me, an infinite aggregate of atoms, all obeying Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. I look back at my life in this gravid tensed moment and I see it clearly now. It has been deeply paradoxical and fundamentally uncertain.”
Uncertainty principle rules equally atoms and humans so our future is always uncertain.
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Of Scottish descent, Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana on 7th March, 1952 and spent much of his early life there and in Nigeria where his mother was a teacher and his father, a doctor. Boyd was in Nigeria during the Biafran War, the brutal secessionist conflict which ran from 1967 to 1970 and it had a profound effect on him.

At the age of nine years he attended Gordonstoun school, in Moray, Scotland an
More about William Boyd...
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