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Any Human Heart (Penguin Essentials) Paperback – 26 Oct 2009
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'A terrific journey through the twentieth century. Thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable' - Jeremy Paxman 'Wise, profound and moving. Only the very best novels make you look at your own life and imagine your own future with fresh eyes' - William Sutcliffe, Independent on Sunday 'Superb, wonderful, enjoyable' Guardian 'Sheer, truly brilliant storytelling. He has probably written more classic books than any of his contemporaries' Daily Telegraph 'Astonishing, touching, extremely funny. A brilliant evocation of a past era and an immensely readable story' Sunday Telegraph 'Astounding. One of Boyd's greatest achievements' Mail on Sunday
About the Author
William Boyd was born in 1952 in Accra, Ghana, and grew up there and in Nigeria. He is the author of fifteen highly acclaimed, bestselling novels and five collections of stories. 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?
This would be a superb book for readers of a certain age who had been to an all boys public school or who, equally have no idea what it would be like in the 1920s. Otherwise, the way of life described in the opening chapters becomes tedious. There is only so much enthusiasm one can have for adolescent boys as they discover girls, join the rugby team and apply for Oxbridge against a backdrop of wealthy families.
I am not warming to the central character. He's self-obsessed and most of his days are spent thinking about himself, sex, drinking and smoking. I'm finding the inclusion of 'real people' of the era rather contrived and of course it doesn't convince us that this is real life, not a work of fiction. I'm afraid to say I can't see myself ploughing through it.
Having previously read Love is Blind I am waiting to see if Boyd can portray women in his novels. So far, both Love is Blind and this novel are about young men and their lives. The women seem to exist solely as a means through which the men's lives develop rather than as realistic and interesting characters themselves.
Is Boyd able to depict women well because so far, his writing appears incredibly sexist.