When I started reading William Boyd’s “Trio” I thought it was some kind of joke. The characters’ names were first to ring alarm bells: Elfrida, Troy, Cornell, Talbot. Indeed, ‘Elfrida’ is the first word. And the style of the opening read a little like an uninspired 1940s or 1950s Hollywood melodrama – a notion that was clearly supported by the names. Indeed, I actually had to check when it was written. (2020)

Then I discovered it was set in Brighton, Uk, in 1968 or thereabouts. Pastiche then. Hmmm.

Interestingly, as the novel progressed – and certainly in the final quarter of the book, some of that phoney style seems to fall away, and I suspect we get closer to Boyd. Indeed, by the time the last few chapters arrive we are on safe ground, Boyd getting to the psychological heart of three of his main characters without the need for tinsel. It’s a powerful ending.

Overall I couldn’t help but think there was a serious novel in here wanting to get out – but one that had been derailed by the phoney names and early-doors style. Make the names more realistic and ‘less Hollywood’, and concentrate on the characters as people rather than caricatures, and we’d have a very different book on our hands. And probably a better one.