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Any Human Heart by William Boyd

Any Human Heart (2002)

by William Boyd

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (80)  Dutch (3)  French (1)  All languages (84)
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
I had to keep reminding myself that Logan Mountstuart wasn't a real person. The editor's footnotes, the index at the back of the book, the walk-on roles of famous people and the events of the 20th century are the easy reasons for this, but just as important is Logan himself - over the years he matured, but still remained essentially the same - charming and sometimes unlikeable, but not hateable. He seems to see himself that way too, talking about himself with comic disdain, and seeing the world as tragic and absurd, interspersed with bits of comedy. As an old man at one of the lowest points of his life, he tells a Roman Catholic priest who wants to bring him back in the fold "I said no plumbline could fathom the depths of my faithlessness - quoting John Francis Byrne, Joyce's friend, at him." I think that goes a long way in summing up Logan's spiritual and personal life. (But points for citing his source! Points deducted for the index though, which didn't help me find this quote.)

Last thought - he reminded me of Theo Decker from The Goldfinch - is Theo the 21st century Logan Mountstuart? ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
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. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 14, 2019 |
Well written - absorbing - an enjoyable experience
  ivanfranko | Jul 21, 2018 |
Once you turn the dedication page, Boyd's novel becomes the published journals of Logan Gonzago Mountstuart. Born in Uruguay 1906, died in 1991 in southern France and principally a writer--Logan lived an adventurous life and through most of it kept a journal. At the end is an afterword, a bibliography of his novels and essays, as well as an index to make the illusion complete. Mountstuart is a minor player--never achieving the fame and acclaim of many of the writers and artists he meets and associates with; he goes along his own way and is a decent, stubborn man, determined to be self-sufficient and not dependent on anyone. In each decade, he meets and mixes with some of the bigger figures of the time -- Virginia Woolf and her set while in college, Hemingway in Spain on assignment as a fellow journalist (and where he acquires bootleg Miros), Picasso in the thirties, in the forties he is in the RNVR and is assigned to keep an eye on the Duke and Duchess Windsor in the Bahamas: is there during the Duke's notorious mismanagement of a still-unsolved murder of a wealthy Canadian. Logan's beloved second wife and their child are killed near the end of the war by a V-2 bomb - - (I had trouble with that bit, the war, guessing what was to come, I just "knew"). Logan goes through times of financial security and then swings to poverty and back again, even having to make a decent meal out of dog food (rabbit stew) during the worst of that period. His life winds up peacefully in Southern France, and he's earned that respite. There were times when the book moved slowly and I was less engaged, but I am inclined now that I am done, to think that Boyd knew what he was about the entire time. For every Hemingway there are countless people like Mountstuart at work in the lower echelons of the art and literary world, supporting it, holding it up, making signficant contributions, but who are not remembered. I ended up believing in Logan Mountstuart's existence, perhaps not as an exactly real person, but as a representative of the many real people who lived lives much like his. This is a novel that will reward the patient reader. **** ( )
  sibyx | May 22, 2018 |
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. ( )
2 vote lisapeet | Apr 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
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.
added by KayCliff | editThe Guardian, Giles Foden (Apr 20, 2002)
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.
added by KayCliff | editThe Observer, Tim Adams (Apr 14, 2002)
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.

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Boydprimary authorall editionscalculated
Grady, MikeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Never say you know the last word about any human heart".
-- Henry James
First words
"Yo, Logan," I wrote.
I was bored to insensibility: no books, no newspapers, no writing material.... And then suddenly ... I was given smoking privileges. A few ounces of loose tobacco and some cigarette papers.... I began to hoard my spare cigarette papers. In the washroom was an old sooty stove used to heat the water for the showers and the baths. On my way out I would scrape some flakes of soot off the outside with my nails. This soot, when mixed with urine, formed an acceptable if pungent ink. I had a safety pin holding my fly together - my pen. I had pen and ink and paper. And thus began "The Prison Diary of Logan Mountstuart". It took me hours to write a few sentences, scratched in laborious minuscule handwriting on my slips of cigarette paper, but ... I was a writer again.
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Book description
A fictional diary, 1923-91, 490 pages, with footnotes and a 12-page index which includes references to both historical and fictional characters.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0141009284, Paperback)

Logan Gonzago Mountstuart, writer, was born in 1906, and died of a heart attack on October 5, 1991, aged 85. William Boyd's novel Any Human Heart is his disjointed autobiography, a massive tome chronicling "my personal rollercoaster"--or rather, "not so much a rollercoaster", but a yo-yo, "a jerking spinning toy in the hands of a maladroit child." From his early childhood in Montevideo, son of an English corned beef executive and his Uraguayan secretary, through his years at a Norfolk public school and Oxford, Mountstuart traces his haphazard development as a writer. Early and easy success is succeeded by a long half-century of mediocrity, disappointments and setbacks, both personal and professional, leading him to multiple failed marriages, internment, alcoholism and abject poverty.

Mountstuart's sorry tale is also the story of a British way of life in inexorable decline, as his journey takes in the Bloomsbury set, the General Strike, the Spanish Civil War, 1930s Americans in Paris, wartime espionage, New York avant garde art, even the Baader-Meinhof gang--all with a stellar supporting cast. The most sustained and best moment comes mid-book, as Mountstuart gets caught up in one of Britain's murkier wartime secrets, in the company of the here truly despicable Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Elsewhere author William Boyd occasionally misplaces his tongue too obviously in his cheek--the Wall Street Crash is trailed with truly crashing inelegance--but overall Any Human Heart is a witty, inventive and ultimately moving novel. Boyd succeeds in conjuring not only a compelling 20th century but also, in the hapless Logan Mountstuart, an anti-hero who achieves something approaching passive greatness. --Alan Stewart, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:20 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

William Boyd's masterful new novel tells, in a series of intimate journals, the story of Logan Mountstuart -- writer, lover, art dealer, spy -- as he makes his often precarious way through the twentieth century.

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