18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
a life less ordinary,
This review is from: Any Human Heart (Paperback)
It's a great book. Took me a while to pick it up, despite being a long time fan, because in synopsis it sounds so close to the magnificent 'The New Confessions', a book to which I owe a debt of gratitude for turning me back on to fiction after an absence of some years. 'Any Human Heart' sounded like more of the same - the epic sweep across the 20th Century seen through the eyes of one man... retreading old ground perhaps ? Whatever, it sounded tired to me.
But over the years William Boyd has become an old friend and I felt I owed him the £6.99 if nothing else, so I handed over the money and took it on holiday. Suffice to say that it had to be torn from my grasp by family and friends at regular intervals as the rambling tale of Logan Mountstuart grabbed me from page one and refused to let go. As I closed the book after the last page I felt a real and deep sadness - as though I'd lost a friend.
So a retread of the New Confessions ? Superficially perhaps, but only in general (lack of) structure. In terms of scale, it's a warmer, closer, more intimate book. Logan is a flawed hero, and the more likeable for it, a man whose successes and reversals are only ever partly of his own making, owing more to luck than to judgement. A man who experiences success and failure, triumph and disaster, plenty of sex and intimacy, but only a little love and who comes to understand which has the most value. He meets with some large and extraordinary figures - the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hemmingway, Woolf - meetings which afford great entertainment as through fiction Boyd brings these figures and events to vibrant life - but it's the smaller incidents in his own life - the 'ordinary' - which have the greatest impact. The early love affairs, the terrible, devastating deaths of wife and daughter, the long descent into poverty... these are the episodes which truly reverberate and will last in the memory. At the end of the book Logan is almost a Prufrock figure, walking on the beach – but with the telling difference that the mermaids have at least occasionally sung to him.
Flawless ? Not quite. I could have done without the Nat Tate stuff, which struck a false and distracting note. And the imprisonment didn't ring true - too closely echoing The New Confessions, and coming across as a clumsily engineered plot device on which the rest of the book would turn.
But these are minor points. I loved this book, actually slowing down the pace of my reading as I approached the end, partly because I didn't want my enjoyment to finish, partly because I dreaded the inevitable end for Logan, who had become a friend over these several hundred pages, mostly because it increasingly led me to question and consider my own life and how it will develop – and of how many books can we say that ?
I haven't mentioned the writing, which is so beautifully balanced as to be - almost - imperceptible, but which pulls the reader along from page to page as effectively as any more conventional plotting. Seems to me that William Boyd has entered a new phase, and from being something of an understudy to more celebrated contemporaries (Amis, Barnes, McEwan et al) has, by hanging in and remaining true to the novel form, become perhaps the greatest of that generation of writers. Buy this book.
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Initial post: 21 Nov 2010 16:58:38 GMT
miss samantha j cormack says:
Ah, I can't begin to express my l♥ve and affection for this book. However, I don't need to now as you have encapsulated it perfectly!!!
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