The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd

The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth is a collection of stories by William Boyd, mostly about chance encounters, affairs, and the charting of lives. The book starts with some shorter stories, then the central story follows the titular Bethany Mellmoth—a young aspiring actress who dreams of better and deals with her separated parents—and then the final story is about a small time actor who finds himself in a mysterious thriller-type situation, not unlike the genre of film he tends to be cast in. At least one of the earlier stories connects to Bethany’s and overall it feels like a carefully curated story collection with her longer story at the heart.

The style of many of the stories—including Bethany Mellmoth and earlier shorter ones—is a snippet type one, with the given story feeling like either a moment of something larger or the telling of a story in small, fast pieces. This allows Boyd to depict characters’ lives in small spaces and it is mostly effective, creating readable short stories about interesting characters. Those hoping for more of an interconnected book, perhaps closer to a novel, when reading the summary may be disappointed, but there are connections and plenty of similar themes. Most of the stories are set in and around London and even when they don’t, it does feel like the characters could run into one another at any point.

Boyd’s collection of stories is an interesting read about flawed people and decisive moments in their lives and relationships, with some conceits used to create the kernel of a story (for example a man listing all the things he has stolen throughout his life, or another vowing off adultery except for kissing) and others just showing elements of a certain character’s life. These are enjoyable literary short stories of varying length that can be consumed at once or dipped in and out of.