Any Human Heart

by William Boyd

Paperback, 2004

Call number

FIC BOY

Collection

Genres

Publication

Vintage (2004), Edition: Reprint, 512 pages

Media reviews

Any Human Heart is actually a highly ordered and controlled encounter with that classic French literary form, the journal intime. Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh are Boyd's true ancestors. Both writers appear in Any Human Heart . Powell is "affable"; Waugh, or a drunken man at a party who Logan thinks is Waugh, "stuck his tongue in my mouth". Logan's true secret sharer, the real tongue in his mouth, is Boyd himself, of course. From his 1981 debut, A Good Man in Africa, onwards, he seems constantly to have been searching for a unifying identity across different fictions, trying to make sense of a life comprising a brutal public-school education, Africa in wartime, Oxford (where he did a PhD on Shelley), literary London and New York glamour: to a large degree, the plot of Any Human Heart . So when all is said and done, the heart the novel tries to dissect is the author's own. It is, as ever, an enjoyable spectacle for his readers.
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Any Human Heart, a novel, purports to be the compendious collected diaries of the fictional Mountstuart, and comes complete with little introductions by the author, footnotes and an index. It is not clear whether it was conceived originally as an extension of the spoof, or already had a life of its own, but the result is a distinctly odd book: a late-arriving lead balloon to the nicely timed punchline of Nat Tate. The narrative is made up of half-a-dozen diaries, which are devoted to different periods of Mountstuart's life of ambition and failure: schooldays, war years, dotage and so on. It ranges across the world - the novelist is born in Uruguay, raised in Birmingham and lives subsequently in London, New York, the Bahamas, Switzerland, Africa and the South of France - and takes in the century. It comes from a similar impulse in Boyd as The New Confessions, a novel in which he also tried to gain the form and pressure of our times through one life, though if Rousseau was the loose inspiration there, here it is Montaigne who skulks in the margins.
Mountstuart himself, on the other hand, remains strangely insubstantial. He does things and meets people, but it’s hard to get much sense of his temperament; his observations on Fleming apply to himself, too: ‘I can’t put my finger on his essential nature . . . He’s affable, generous, appears interested in you – but there’s nothing in him to like.’ Mountstuart’s flimsiness as a novelistic character is supposed to make the book more realistic by acknowledging that personality is nebulous in itself. In practice, though, it has the opposite effect. His inconsistencies are a matter of convenience – an excuse for him to meet Hemingway, Joyce, Woolf and all the rest – and for too much of the time, Mountstuart is revealed for what he is: a device allowing Boyd to write about 20th-century celebrities in the pastiche idiom of a contemporary observer. Boyd hustles you through to the end despite all this, but it’s hard not to wonder if it was really worth making the journey.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
Any Human Heart by William Boyd is an excellent read. Logan Mountstuart is born in 1906 in Montevideo, son of an English corporate executive and a Uraguayan mother, and then attends a British public school, where he meets two friends who will have great significance to him his whole life. He hopes to attend Oxford and become a writer.

The book consists of his personal journals, with some editorial commentary, and follows his life for almost the entirety of the 20th century. He has notable successes and embarrassing failures, both professionally and personally. He has unexpected adventures, particularly during WWII, when he works under future James Bond author Ian Fleming in defense of the realm. One 1933 entry gives an example of his peripatetic existence: "Movements. Monte Carlo - La Spezia (to see Shelley's last house at Lerici) - Pisa - Sienna - Rome. Rome - Paris (on an aeroplane - this is the only way to travel). Paris - London. London - Thorpe Gellingham." One of the pleasures of the book is his globetrotting and intimate descriptions of the locales where he stays.

He marries mistakenly, and subsequently meets the love of his life. Throughout his life, like a well-known U.S. president, he has trouble keeping his pants zipped. Surprisingly, perhaps because of his basic humility and decency, this often leads to lasting relationships, even when the sex stops.

He believably meets many luminaries of the century, and his connections with an art gallery bring him into contact with artists like Picasso and Klee. "Picasso seems to me one of those stupid geniuses - more Yeats, Strindberg, Rimbaud, Mozart, than Matisse, Brahms, Braque. It's quite tiring being with him.". But Picasso takes to Logan, and gives Logan and a paramour a precious drawing of the two of them. One story thread that reappears through the years is Logan's on-again off-again relationship with the odious Duke and Duchess of Windsor (were they as odious as portrayed, I wonder?)

He lives in the U.S. for a while, and prefers a city like Chicago to LA - "there has to be something brutal and careless about a true city - the denizen must feel vulnerable - and Los Angeles doesn't deliver that . . . I feel too damn comfortable here, too cocooned." Toward the end of his life he spends time at a beautifully described farmhouse near a small French village, where he is a mystery to the increasingly friendly locals. This is not a story of a steady climb to the top or a rocket trajectory followed by a plunge. Logan thinks of his life first as a roller coaster, then corrects himself to view it as a yo-yo, used by a "maladroit child". Looking back, he sees, "sporadic highs and appalling lows, . . . brief triumphs and terrible losses", but in the end it is a life well-lived, and well-told. In many ways he is like each of us, and much of the enjoyment of this book is his honest depiction of a full and eventful life. Many thanks to Mark for recommending this one.
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LibraryThing member lisapeet
This review from November 2009: Really good reread. Stories about the arcs of people's lives always make me reflect, in this case a lot of fun. In the six years since I last read it I've gotten whomped over the head with a whole lot of 20th-century cultural literacy, and it was pleasing how much more I got out of that angle. Plus I'm older (doh), and you know... the older the grape the sweeter the wine, or whatever that saying is. Not that I like sweet wine, come to think of it. At any rate, though I generally don't reread much, this was a perfect candidate and I'm glad I did.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
“Never say you know the last word about any human heart".
-Henry James

Another title for this book, may have been “The Mortal Life of Logan Mountstuart”. LMS, as he calls himself, was born in 1906 and starting in 1923, he tells his story through personal journal entries, taking us through the decades of the 20th century. It’s a Zelig-like journey, as LMS, a fledgling author and correspondent, tools across Europe, bumping into a vast array of cultural icons, like Hemingway, Picasso, Ian Fleming, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Virginia Woolf and many others. We also experience his many ups and downs, his affairs, (sex plays a large frolicking role), his marriages and his life-long friendships: “It's true: lives do drift apart for no obvious reason. We're all busy people, we can't spend our time simply trying to stay in touch. The test of a friendship is if it can weather these inevitable gaps.”
This is my first Boyd novel and his clear prose and sure-fire storytelling sold me immediately. I’m an instant fan.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
William Boyd' s novel is presented in the form of journal entries; thus the subtitle, "The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart". The "journals" which the author has created, complete with footnotes and an index of all the people whom Logan meets (including Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, and countless others), brilliantly evoke a past era - or rather eras; for the journals span Logan Mountstuart's life from 1923, when he was a precocious schoolboy, through his early success as a biographer and novelist, his marriages, a war spent in Military Intelligence under Ian Fleming, life as an art dealer in New York, and poverty in London in his old age, until his death in France on October 5, 1991. The breadth of the story reminded me of Boyd's earlier novel, The New Confessions, which took the form of the autobiography of John James Todd, chronicling his uncanny and exhilarating life as one of the most unappreciated geniuses of the twentieth century

Much of the technical brilliance of this book results from the shifts in Logan's style as he, and the times through which he lives, ever so subtly evolve. Because of this it is sometimes difficult to appreciate Boyd's art as one ought, for one finds oneself almost reading the journals as genuine. The most dazzling vignettes, perhaps, are those of the self-regarding diaries of the young writers and aesthetes of the Twenties and Thirties, where Cyril Connolly (who appears as a character) is a likely influence. But if the early sections are the closest to parody, they are never mere caricature.

Boyd manages a rather touching, as well as extremely funny, portrait of a pretentious, arrogant, clever 17-year-old ("wrote a Spenserian ode on loss of faith"), who writes with flourishes of self-conscious pomposity ("we regained the purlieus of school without further incident"), is striving for superiority ("the Xmas tree is surely the saddest and most vulgar object invented by mankind"), yet does not know how to go about kissing his cousin Lucy, or deal with the discovery that his father does not have long to live.

Almost every section of the journals is nearly as good: Logan's moment with his baby son: "Lionel has croup. He seems a sickly baby. I sat him on my knee the other day and he stared at me with a baleful, sullen, and unknowing eye." is reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh. But the novel is not a simple criticism of many diarists of the period. Logan is capable of real and generous feeling, as well as of self-regarding depression; though to reveal the circumstances in which he finds (and loses) his truest love, as he moves from early critical acclaim to poverty and obscurity, would spoil an immensely readable story.

One remembers that this is a novel, indeed, by the way it holds your interest - which is quite a feat, because Boyd has also skillfully mimicked the "artless" and random qualities of the typical diary. As Logan remarks in his opening preamble, one should not expect coherence from journals: they merely "entrap that collection of selves that forms us"; unshaped by retrospection, their reality is "riotous and disorganized." Boyd's novel deliberately appears sprawling and inclusive; but it reads like a distillation of a real journal. He displays an unobtrusive artistry that transforms the potentially confusing "disorganized" diary-form into a novel which demonstrates the confusions and randomness of human life.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Fascinating and utterly enthralling. Boyd lays out the story of Logan Mountstuart in the form of the character's journals, completed with varying regularity throughout his life, stretching from his days at public school at the end of the First World War, through his days at Oxford in the early 1920s and various dalliances during the Spanish Civil War, and World War Two, a spell running a gallery in New York in the 1950s and 1960s, academia in West Africa in the late 1960s and then penury back home in the 1970s and 1980s.
The reminiscences are liberally peppered with pen portraits of the people whom Mountstuart met, including Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh and, in more sinister circumstances, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Boyd is, as ever, master of his material and the pace never lags, and the reader is wholly immersed in the world of Mountstuart. Probably his finest novel to date, which is saying a great deal.
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LibraryThing member vguy
Waste of time. Story in journal form of a novelist - though he shows little sign of intelligence imagination or literary style. He rubs shoulders with numerous celebs of the first half of the 20th century (V. Woolf, Duke of Windsor, Hemingway); these are rendered in thumbnail sketches, more like nail-clippings. The protagonist has a sex-life, at its most interesting with a Russian prostitute in Paris. Little discernible plot, just a sequence of events. A scattering of factual oddities and inconsistencies, such as the WW1 vets at Oxford in 1924! were they all doing doctorates?
Didn't finish it. Enjoyed his first two books some years back, so disappointed in this.
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LibraryThing member Bob_Kemp
I found this a very compelling book but not in the sense that we often mean of being particularly un-put-downable or enjoyable. The central character is the thing - there are other good things such as period detail and an extension of Boyd's fictitious artist joke but it's an ambitious attempt to document a complete life, a rather flawed and at times not particularly interesting or likeable life, but one that is recognisably deeply human. Over-ambitious perhaps, and at times I felt that I was carried along by the ambition more than anything else but nonetheless a fantastic piece of work.… (more)
LibraryThing member edwinbcn
One typical characteristic of postmodern literature is the play with genre. Early on in the 1990s, literary authors started producing biographies of insignificant or imaginary people, the latter sometimes with relatively uneventful or insignificant lives. In 1998, William Boyd published Nat Tate: American Artist, 1928-1960, which is an elaborate hoax, a biography on a non-existant American painter. Any human heart is a variant in the same vein, being the diaries of the fictional character Logan Mountstuart.

In a way, I suppose writing a fictional diary must be more difficult that a fictional biography. In a journal the internal psychology, the psychology of the main character are essential to the credibility of the journals, a credibility which is important to maintain suspense, and prevent the reader from abandoning the book altogether. Still, as a consequence of the genre, any fictional diary or biography is in essence less interesting than a real journal or biography, because nothing really matters.

The first hurdle for the author is, therefore, to make a convincing case for the diarist to keep a journal which would be interesting enough for a modern readership. This problem is conspicuously solved by making Logan a minor author, who lived throughout the whole of the 20th century, being born in 1916, whose background, course of life through modern history we are all familiar with, and interests are generally appealing to the average reader. However, there is some strain as Mountstuart's life story does take some unexpected turns, possibly to keep the story going.

There are a few hidden strings in the story, which add to the authenticity of the character of Mountstuart while winking an eye to the reader. One of these lines is Mountstuart's flawed assessment of celebrities he encounters during his life, dismissing Hemingway as a minor author. Another would be his "daring" bravado of publishing an "indecent" novel, although Mountstuart is a follower here, rather than a trendsetter, as D.H.Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover would already have come out and paved the way for this type of literature.

Any human heart did not convince me as a journal. The unity of style, the lack of spontaneity and the general feel were more of a novel than an autograph. Nonetheless, the formidable book, more than 500 pages, was a very enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member GCPLreader
Logan Mountstuart keeps a journal of his 85 year life that spans every decade of the 20th century. He leads a remarkable international life as a writer, WWII spy, and art dealer and meets many of the most famous people of the 20th century including Hemingway, Picasso, and the abdicated Edward VIII. It wasn’t easy to root for this greatly flawed, selfish man, but what the (real!) author does so brilliantly is show us Logan’s growth as a human being. My favorite section is the end of his life as he retires to France and reflects on his loves and the luck he’s had.
I would recommend this novel to the patient reader who would be pleased with a gentle, slow, complete life of a (maybe not so) ordinary man.
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LibraryThing member bongo_x
I’ve gone back and changed my rating a couple of times already, I decided that since I keep thinking about it (much more than I expected) it must deserve the higher rating.
I don’t think there are any real spoilers here, but I have to mention some of the broad plot points to give my reasons for my rating. I picked this up at random thinking it was some obscure, unread book and not realizing it was fairly popular, or that there was a BBC production of it.

This is the (fictional) story of a man’s life, from beginning to end, told through his journal entries. He’s a fairly ordinary man, a moderately successful writer, who finds himself in some of the big historical events of the last century. Unlike similar books I’ve read (one just recently, which put me off this at first) he is not a hero or the secret brain behind events; he’s not the guy that told Edison the secret of the light bulb, or told the Allies how to win the war. This book is almost the opposite of that.

He’s the guy who’s standing in the background in the famous picture. When you read an account of a famous gathering of writers and artists, a dinner or a party, he’s the name you don’t recognize. I’ve always been very curious about those people, I’m always asking "what’s their story?" and apparently Mr. Boyd was too and wrote one. I think Mr. Boyd did a great job capturing that story, and the book is well written, the problems come from the same source as the strengths; the whole point is that the main character is not the most interesting man in the world. He leads a very interesting life compared to most, but not interesting enough to tell stories about. He occupies that middle ground. If you’re like me and always wonder who that actress is that made a bunch of movies but no one remembers her name, or read an obituary buried somewhere and thought the person had lived an interesting life, this will probably interest you.

The other side of this book is a look at what it is to be a man and get through life. Again, something that’s been covered many times, in some ways reminds me of what I thought the "The Sportswriter" could’ve been (which I didn’t care for). The subject is a good guy, and tries to be, but does things that are not always admirable, if never outright evil or bad.

My criticisms are tempered by the feeling that the book does exactly what it attempts to do. I had the strange feeling after reading the journals of a man’s entire life that I still didn’t know him that well, but I think in some ways he didn’t know himself that well, and that’s what you get from only reading his journals. There is no narrator to add extra depth and description. I like the fact that Mr. Boyd resisted the temptation to make the characters and events larger than life, they are exactly life size. You could almost forget you’re reading a fictional account.

If you’re looking for a hero story or a great adventure you will be disappointed. If you want a quiet story of a man trying to figure out his life and living through the big events of recent history then I think it was well done.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Logan Mountstuart's story, which spans every decade of the 20th century (born 1906, died 1991), is told through his personal journals, which he has kept off and on at various stages of his life. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, he moved to England with his English father and Uruguayan mother as a young boy. The earliest pages of the journals having been lost, the story picks up sometime in LMS's teens, when he made a pact with his two best friends which in one case, had lasting consequences. He decided to become a writer and published a successful novel after attending Oxford university, and his early success led him to meet some of the leading figures of the arts and letters, making for plenty of namedropping, from Hemingway (encountered in Spain during the civil war), to Picasso (whom he interviewed for an article), to Evelyn Waugh (who kissed him on the mouth), to name just a few. But his acquaintance with the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson may have had dramatic consequences, as he believed the duke, with whom he had fallen out of favour, later betrayed him during WWII, leading to two years of internment in Switzerland after a failed intelligence mission. Because of the nature of the documents through which we get to know LMS, we are presented with many facets of his life, from intimate details about his loves and lovers to little anecdotes and comments about a wide variety of topics and people.

LMS certainly lived an exciting life, but this book having been highly recommended to me by various people, and having read two of Boyd's books before, I had high expectations, and while I thought the story was very good for the most part, I wasn't so impressed with all the cameos and appearances of famous people in his life and kept wanting more, which is why the novel suddenly became absolutely fascinating to me when, as an old man, LMS hit hard times and had to go to extreme measures to eke out a living and fight to hang on to his dignity and sense of self, even as he found himself unable to write the novel that might have put him back on the map. By then end I was completely won over and quite fascinated by this monumental construction, which is one I'll have to find time to read again in future, as I'm sure I'll enjoy it very differently now that the whole picture has been revealed. Strongly recommended.
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LibraryThing member miketroll
Boyd is always entertaining, but opts here for an expansive narrative in both space and time. With a canvas that big, the paint is sometimes spread very thin.
LibraryThing member hennis
A very special book, because you experience the (very interesting) life of a person called Logan Mountstuart (LMS) reading his personal diary. William Boyd writes exceptionally great. Loved this book.
LibraryThing member sonyau
When you start out, you'll think you might not like this book. The main character is arrogant and, well, young. Brash. But keep going through this fictionalized journal that keeps track of seventy years of a man's life, including his heartbreaks and strongest loves. Other reviewers bash it for its "Forest Gumpness," yet to me it's not all that unbelievable that an upperclass intelligence officer might have contact with influential persons during one of the world's most tempestuous and active periods in history. I've read several William Boyd titles now and he has repeatedly shown his ability to invent worlds I like inhabiting. It's a good winter read, fully sad, sweet, and satisfying.… (more)
LibraryThing member Eily
This is a great romp through the 20th century, name-dropping as we go. Any Human Heart is a record of the various journals and diaries of Logan Gonzago Mountstuart – mother Uruguayan, father British – from his schooldays at a minor English public school to his death in a quiet little French village. Logan’s life touches most of the defining moments of the 20th century, from the Spanish Civil War to the Baader Meinhof Gang. Through three marriages, episodes in London, Paris, Switzerland, New York and most memorably, the Bahamas,
Logan is a journalist, a writer of biographies and novels, an art dealer, a frequenter of prostitutes, a spy and a prisoner of war. He meets Cyril Connolly, adventures with Ernest Hemingway, visits the studio of Pablo Picasso, plays golf with the Duke of Windsor, works for Ian Fleming during World War II and has a nodding acquaintance with James Joyce. All of which might be unbelievable if it weren’t for the deft credibility, the charm and authenticity of Boyd’s creation. The reader is more than happy to suspend disbelief because this is no crude wade through the shallows of celebrity, this is a very clever book. It works because of the richness and variety of its creativity, with minor and major characters given depth and density. When, towards the end of the book, Logan is rescued from poverty in late-70s London, where he is reduced to making stews from dog food, the reader is more than happy to go with him to his unexpected inheritance in France.
The device of using journals or diaries to describe a life is often considered to be artificial and distancing, but here it is used skilfully, allowing us into Logan Mountstuart’s mind at one remove, making the reader both a voyeur and a confidante.
William Boyd’s last book was a biography of American painter Nat Tate, which had art dealers anxiously searching the back-catalogues for work which didn’t exist, because Tate didn’t either. With Any Human Heart Boyd has gone one better. This time we know from the start that this is fiction, but so solidly and joyously placed in the world that it might as well be fact.
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LibraryThing member franoscar
This book is lots of fun. It is a fictional journal, goes from prep school on. He spends WW2 watching the Windsors in the Bahamas, but fell out with them over an attempted coverup (where the Duke wanted him to act dishonorably.) Later in NYC he is the manager of an Art Gallery. It is pretty episodic. The last eventful part, where is he 70+ and is a member of a group in England aligned with Red Army Faction people, is pretty unbelievable.… (more)
LibraryThing member cschack
A profoundly moving book.
LibraryThing member marialondon
First of all, just to say the main thing, it's a really good read, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It made me laugh a lot at the beginning (especially in the school years) & then gradually it made me sadder & sadder. At the end I cried a bit.

What was most poignant for me in the book was the relationship with Freya & Stella, and how there can be this moment / time of happiness in someone's life, only for it sometimes to end ever so soon. It was absolutely devastating when Freya & Stella died, & it wasn't made easier by the fact that so many people died in the 2nd world war. It still seemed tragic to me. I have to say, after that the book depicted Logan's life as going from disaster to disaster, just going downhill really. Especially the bit where he was living in London & was completely broke & living on dogfood... oh my god, that was so so sad especially after he had lived those happy years with Freya. I did think at that point in the book that this was quite disappointing; Logan went from an initially promising life, to a peak when he met Freya, to everything going downhill after that. And yet at the end Boyle actually 'saved' the whole thing, with Logan's last few years in France, which actually felt like a very good ending to a long & turbulent life.

The one thing that left me a bit puzzled- I didn't know what do with it!- was the fact that Logan kept bumping into famous people: Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Joyce, Virginia Woolf, the prince of England & many others. That particular strategy felt a bit 'gimmicky' and Forest-Gumpy to me... but I guess the book was (among other things) trying to document what happened during the 20th century & not just Logan's life, so in that sense it made sense as a strategy.

Anyway, in general- very well written, very enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member mbergman
This is a novel written in the form of a personal journal by a writer who lived through every decade in the 20th century (1906-1991). He records his experiences as (1) a student at a prep school & at Oxford; (2) as a beginning writer; (3) as an intelligence officer during WWII (keeping track of the Duke & Duchess of Windson in the Caribbean & later as a prisoner for two years in Switzerland--a confusing story); (4) as an art dealer in New York City; & (5) as a retiree in London & later in southern France. I divide it this way, but he gives equal or greater attention to his private life & his relationships with family, lovers, friends, & incidental acquaintances such as Pablo Picasso & Ernest Hemingway. This is a character I normally wouldn't like--he smokes & drinks heavily, engages in adulterous affairs, & takes his privileged status for granted--but thanks to this author I got caught up in his story & cared about what happened to him.… (more)
LibraryThing member LizzySiddal
Any Human Heart

Yet another intriguing, intelligently written book by board favourite William Boyd.

The protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, is a writer whose life spans every decade of the C20th. By turns heroic/anti-heroic and, at times, somewhat quixotic, his life has highs, lows and even boring bits when he's stuck in a rut. Boyd cleverly reduces these latter to a minimum by compiling the novel from a series of journals written by LMS during his life. When LMS was in a rut, there was no journal. Hey presto - all the editing is done. The advantage of this is that the reader is not bored with the minutiae of life. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to keep track of time.

There's a good mix of mood here: humour in the jolly boarding school escapades of LMS as a teen; bitchiness in the successful years as a young author and journalist (dishing the dirt on Hemingway, Woolf, Waugh, etc); adventure during the Second World War (seasoned with the intrigues of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor!).

The real accomplishment in Boyd's format is that LMS goes into a slow inreversible decline after WWII and yet the journals remain interesting, for by turns he lives in New York, Nigeria, London and France. We don't really notice his downhill slide until we meet him as a pensioner trying to eek out an existence in 1980's London. I found these pages terribly, terribly poignant (and a little terrifying to be honest). I was very pleased when LMS escaped to live out his days in relative comfort in a delapidated French cottage.

I did think "Any Human Heart" a little patchy. I found the New York section a little vacuous - but, then, maybe that's how life was in the 1960's arty circle. But I am nit-picking. On the whole this is another triumphant novel from the pen of an author who, in my eyes, is now an unsung national treasure.

P.S Boyd's fictional artist Nat Tate features as a subsidiary character in the New York section. Seems Boyd just couldn't resist rubbing the art world's nose in it just one more time!
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LibraryThing member lmckend
The first Boyd I read, and instantly a fan. Read this when you have plenty of time on your hands as its almost impossible to put down.
LibraryThing member jimrbrown
Wonderful book that I found hard to put down. Mountstuart is a facinating and lovable rogue and this is Boyd's best book by a country mile.
LibraryThing member otterley
A very readable and accessible book; Boyd is foot perfect as he creates a single narrative voice to carry over 70 very eventful years. His not entirely sympathetic protagonist may waltz through Europe and America with Picasso and the Rolling Stones, but his mortality and bereavements are universal. Boyd is, ultimately, kind to Logan Mountstewart - perhaps because we all need some kindness in our lives, particularly at the end..… (more)
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
The best thing about William Boyd books IMO is that no matter how tedious the plot or characters may be, there will always be moments of brilliance, superb humour and observations that have me saying 'yep, he absolutely nailed that one'. So it was with this 'fictional memoir'. I wasn't gripped all the way through - anything to do with fine art tends to make my eyes glaze over, and the Nigerian section seemed a bit rushed - but there were also some superbly written sections, as well as a seismic shock partway through.

I was impressed by the way the narrator's voice changed as he aged - from slightly bumptious public schoolboy to cantankerous old codger, and the way - at the end - the reader could look back on pretty much an entire life, and have a sense of time having elapsed, acquaintances come and gone etc.

Names are dropped at an astonishing rate in the early stages, 'LMS' counting among his personal acquaintances such luminaries as James Joyce, Ian Fleming, Ernest Hemingway and Picasso, as well as Edward and Mrs Simpson. Brave, the way these characters are portrayed warts-and-all (Hemingway drops the 'F' word, the Duke of Windsor gets involved with some dodgy dealings, and 'LMS' pokes fun at Joyce's Irish accent). Presumably okay as the people concerned are dead enough not to sue.

It's not full of the sort of belly laughs found in Boyd's other novels, Armadillo and A Good Man in Africa, though the humour is there. There is a great 'three in a bed' episode late on (students of Literary Vice could Compare and Contrast the 'Girls' chapter in 'American Psycho'!). My favourite, though was where the narrator jotted down all the subjects he felt qualified to write about, the list including English Romantic Poets, South America, Modern Art and Corned Beef. !!
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LibraryThing member Davidgnp
Somewhat disappointed by this one after enjoying 'An Ice Cream War' and 'Brazzaville Beach' from the same author. This is a sprawling novel that extends over 70 years, a fictional memoir in which we are constantly encountering famous real-life characters, from Picasso to Jackson Pollock, Ian Fleming (in his role as spy-recruiter) to Ernest Hemingway. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor are cast in a very shady light. It all sounds good fun, doesn't it, and there is fun to be had to a degree, and some sharp passages of writing, even occasionally superb; but there was no central narrative thread, which made the book lumpy and episodic. The glue was the central character Logan Mountstuart, who we follow from public school to the grave and all shades in between, from wealth to poverty, from hedonism to cynicism, from shallow romps to deep regrets. My problem was that I didn't care enough about him to sustain me through nearly 500 pages, and I was glad when I got to the end, not in that satisying way you reach the destination with a friend you have enjoyed being with, but when you have been stuck with someone who turned out to be a tad tedious halfway through the journey. Still, I have high hopes for my next travelling companion, whoever that might be.… (more)

Pages

512

ISBN

1400031001 / 9781400031009
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