If you like reading journals and belle lettres about personal lives wrapped up in history, this is the novel for you. While I found it delightful and amusing in places, as the protagonist Logan Mountstuart reflects on his many affairs of the heart, it did tend to drag a bit near the end as his life gradually hits the skids. This is book about living for the moment and deferring the remorse for another day. Logan Mountstuart is one of those fascinating footloose characters who the writer William Boyd is famous for heading up his award-winning novels with. He is blessed with ambition, brains, a good pedigree, fine tastes and charm but, alas, no enduring sense of lasting purpose. In "Any Human Heart" the reader finds Logan, son of a fairly successful rising-business family, heading out into life with a desire to write scholarly pieces. The Great War is over and Mountstuart and his prep school pals have ended up in Oxford. Even though this decade will be a rough one economically and socially, these young bucks are the lucky ones: no war scars, nice fat allowances, and a zest for discovering all that life has to offer, sex included. Their passage into manhood will be adventurous to say the least: flings on the continent, attending parties, meeting strange and desirable women, writing best-sellers, and settling down to married life are all in the cards. But there is a problem to deal with: fortunes can change very quickly. Boyd has put this story in the context of one of the world's biggest historical game-changers: the Great Depression. Old desires of the heart start to wear thin as new yearnings awake. Mountstuart has grown tired of England's snobbery and a loveless marriage, and is in search of new gig; an international columnist followed by a stint with the British secret service during World War II. When we find him thirty years later, he has definitely burned most of his bridges and taken on a new identity and an 'eclectic' set of new acquaintances including the likes of Ian Fleming, Picasso, the Windsor and Hemingway. In succeeding decades, Mountstuart's journal will take his readers into some of the most unlikely of circumstances the world has to offer. Many things appear to happen by chance which, even when strung together, hardly ever make sense of or give purpose to life. Logan's life has consisted of being here, there, and everywhere but never rising to that one great defining achievement that marks our place in time and space. He has rubbed shoulders with the greats, had many affairs, owned many paintings, written many reviews and books, married three times, travelled the world, and yet at the end of it all, remains a pathetically lonely old man unsure of what he really has accomplished in life.
on June 18, 2003
Once again William Boyd has produced a jewel. His ability to bring true history into a novel is totally unmatched. But even Boyd has outdone his last few publications with "Any Human Heart," not since "Brazzaville Beach" has he written such a page turner. This book flows effortlessly from cracking good tale to tragic reflection. His creation of this heroic character Logan Mountstuart left me crying at certain points in the book, and I can assure you I have never done that while reading a book before. Boyd uses a diary as a vehicle to detail the facts and emotions of Logan's life, and this adds to the drama, suspense and pain of his story.
If you have the time and you are looking for a summer assignment, go to the book store and purchase William Boyd's library. Read them in any order you like. But if you are looking for one excellent example of this writer's genius, then Any Human Heart is a great place to start. I cannot recommend any book more highly.
on June 17, 2003
'Any Human Heart' is the autobiography of a fictitious twentieth century literary character, Logan Mountstuart. Despite his rather dodgy name, this character grows up into a rather interesting man. It is especially his older life when he reflects upon disappointments and the overall value of his life does this book really catch fire - I found it to be most moving.
Unfortunately all is not perfect. The author decided to "be cute" by having Logan Mountstuart be personal friends of famous twentieth century characters such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf. Some readers might find this to add extra spice to the story. I found it exploitative and totally unnecessary - the book is solid enough. At any rate this Forrest Gump-like diversions really don't spoil this fine book.
Bottom line: a very worthy read. William Boyd is in fine form.
on November 14, 2005
Inspiring, suspenseful and very well written, this book is one of my personal favorites.
It tells the story of a life that all of us want to live. Who wouldn't want to be an art dealer mingling with the literary figures of the 20th century, and then occasionally spying for the British government?
I'm neither a spy, nor a writer, but many passages in this book sounded very familiar to me. The hopes, the dreams, the expectations, and the losses, we've all lived them.
Read it and be amazed. It will not disappoint