A Very Good Boyd

Historians may someday call this the golden age of the important British novelist, when a vast and talented cohort of writers now mostly in their 50s — Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Graham Swift, Salman Rushdie — dominate bookstores and Man Booker Prize lists, as well as talk shows and tabloids. One name, however, might unfairly miss the list: William Boyd, a contemporary of the aforementioned and their equal in every respect, except perhaps critical plaudits and household fame. There is a reason: Boyd lives a double life.

Since his rollicking 1981 debut,...