Considering that Boyd wrote his first novel “A good man in Africa” in 1981, it´s a shame I´ve only just discovered this author.
Anyway, “armad!llo” is a small masterpiece about Lorimer Black, a young insurance agent, specialising in “loss adjustment”. The story starts with his visit to a client, whom he finds dangling from the ceiling. He has hanged himself, because Black´s agency has found out, that he committed arson to get the insurance money.
Black gets into more and more absurd situations on the one hand, on the other the reader learns more and more about Black´s past. So you hear that Lorimer collects antique helmets, his latest acquisition being a 3000- year-old Greek one. When he solves another spectacular insurance fraud he reckons he´ll get a fat bonus, that will enable him to pay for his Greek helmet. Instead he finds himself in the role of a scapegoat in the centre of a conspiracy at work. His private life is similarly complicated. Like Parzival or Simplizissimus he stumbles into all sorts of embarassing situations, but somehow he always manages to come away in one piece.
That´s the plot, more or less. What makes this novel unique, is Boyd´s way of describing what happens. He loves unusual words like his protagonist loves antique helmets, but his language is never artistic or vain, just very precise, very concentrated, a pure pleasure to read. From far away you hear Kafka saying hello, and Calvino.