- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (6 Mar. 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141009284
- ISBN-13: 978-0141009285
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.2 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 411 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 949,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Any Human Heart (Penguin Essentials) Paperback – 6 Mar 2003
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"Any Human Heart" is an ambitious, all-encompassing novel. Through the intimate journals of Logan Mounstuart we travel from Uruguay to Oxford, on to Paris, the Bahamas, New York and West Africa, and meet his three wives, his family, his friends and colleagues, his rivals, enemies and lovers, including notables such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.
About the Author
William Boyd was born in 1952 in Accra, Ghana and grew up there and in Nigeria. His first novel, A Good Man in Africa (1981), won the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Somerset Maugham Prize. His other novels include An Ice Cream War (1982, shortlisted for the 1982 Booker Prize and winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), Stars and Bars (1984), The New Confessions (1987), Brazzaville Beach (1990, winner of the McVitie Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize), The Blue Afternoon (1993, winner of the 1993 Sunday Express Book of the Year Award), Armadillo (1998), Any Human Heart (2002, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet) and Restless (2006, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year Award). His latest novel is Sweet Caress (2015). Some seventeen of his screenplays have been filmed, including The Trench (1999), which he also directed, and he is also the author of four collections of short stories: On the Yankee Station (1981), The Destiny of Nathalie 'X' (1995), Fascination (2004) and The Dream Lover (2008). He is married and divides his time between London and South West France.
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The book starts in Logan's school period. He is at public school in England. At this time the diary is written in a very different way from how it evolves through the novel as Logan's style matures. We follow him from his school days and the loss of his father through a variety of jobs and relationships. At times he has success as a novelist and a seller of fine art; he meets famous people such as Ian Fleming and the Duke of Windsor (who the author obviously doesn't rate highly); he suffers bereavement; he latches on the political movements; and he experiences real poverty. Like all lives you don't know how it will finish when it starts and the author has arranged the collection of different experiences as a plausible narrative. I was continually surprised but I always believed what had happened.
Logan is not always a nice man but his motivations are clear and as you engage with him there are moments when you will despair of him and other times when what happens to him will leave you very sad. The author includes quite a lot about class, money and politics as well as linking to key events in the history of the twentieth century. This isn't a huge book but there is a lot in it because it is very carefully crafted. I found it absolutely compelling reading - it reminded me of Margaret Forster's "Diary of an Ordinary Woman" in scope and format although not in content.
The School Journal : "I proposed that we should each be presented with a challenge, that two of us, in turn, should think up a task for the third and that the endeavour would be documented and witnessed as far as possible in the Livre d'Or ... the term will certainly be an interesting one and not without humour."
The Oxford Journal : She has set something loose in me and even now it strikes me that the nature of your first, all-consuming sexual experience might determine your needs and appetite for the rest of your life ... will bitten-down fingernails always be a sign for me, a form of sexual bookmark?"
And so continuing through the story of The First London Journal , The Second World War Journal , The Post-War Journal , The New York Journal , The African Journal , The Second London Journal , and finally ...
The French Journal : Reading my old journals is both a source of revelation and shock. I can see no connection between that schoolboy and the man I am now. What a morose, melancholy, troubled soul I was. That wasn't me, was it?"
Mountstuart is born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1906, where his father manages a meat processing firm that produces huge amounts of corned beef of the European market. The family returns to Britain while Logan is still a boy, and Logan is packed off to public school. It is here that the journal opens, shortly after the end of the First World War, with Logan and his classmates and fellow aesthetes Peter Scabius and Ben Leeming set each other challenges to combat the ennui that awaits them during their final year at school.
I detected strong resonances here with the experiences of Charles Stringham, Peter Templer and Nick Jenkins in the opening chapter of Anthony Powell's mammoth and glorious twelve volume sequence, 'A Dance to the Music of Time', and indeed Anthony Powell makes a couple of cameo appearances throughout the novel. There is the same obsession with girls (so rarely encountered in the boys' daily life), and the three boys differing doubts, hopes and aspirations about what the future might hold. It Is fair to say, however, learn a lot more about Mountstuart as narrator of 'Any Human Heart' than we ever do about Nick Jenkins.
The detailed fictional biography is Boyd's metier - a furrow that he had previously ploughed so memorably with 'The New Confessions' (which never really received the recognition it so clearly merits), and yet again with his latest book, 'Sweet Caress'. With 'Any Human Heart' he takes the genre to a new pitch, strewing the work with footnotes and even providing a detailed index: I can readily imagine some readers being convinced that Mountstuart had been a real person.
Mountstuart does get to move in some exalted circles. While a student, in addition to Anthony Powell, he meets Evelyn Waugh, W H Auden and Christopher Isherwood, and collides, petulantly, with Virginia Woolf and her circle. While less assiduous in his history studies than moight have been hoped, Mountstuart find s the time to write a biography of Shelley while still a student, and this is published shortly after his graduation. Shortly thereafter he decamps to Paris where, among other pastimes, he becomes a regular client of an Russian émigrée turned prostitute. These visits will form the basis of his first novel, 'The Girl Factory' which became a runaway success.
Though he will never recapture the commercial success of that novel, Mountstuart finds himself a recognised figure in the wider literary world, and is able to secure numerous journalistic commissions which see him travelling around Europe, and building a name for himself as an art critic. His family life is not without complications but by his late twenties he finds himself married to Lottie, daughter of the Earl of Edgefield and, shortly thereafter, he becomes a father. Domesticity is not easy for Mountstuart, and he finds himself reporting on the Spanish Civil War, drinking with Hemingway and mixing with a variety of roguish figures.
He continues to meet the great and the good including Ian Fleming, with whom he works in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. He had also, earlier, run across the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and this encounter will have resonances throughout the rest of the novel.
After a chaotic war, Mountstuart subsequently finds himself living in New York and managing an art gallery, then lecturing in English literature in a Nigerian university, before returning to poverty-stricken life in London in the 1970s.
Mountstuart's life has some glorious peaks, yet also features some troughs of utter tragedy, all of which Boyd captures with great plausibility, all helped by the close attention to detail in his historical researches which ensure that the context is always just right.
Enchanting, beguiling and always engrossing.
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