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Any Human Heart by William Boyd

Any Human Heart (original 2002; edition 2011)

by William Boyd, Simon Vance (Narrator)

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1,629694,447 (4.11)133
Title:Any Human Heart
Authors:William Boyd (Author)
Other authors:Simon Vance (Narrator)
Info:2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc., audible.com
Collections:Your library
Tags:audio, literary fiction, 2012, epistolary

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Any Human Heart by William Boyd (2002)


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William Boyd's fictional account of the life and times of Logan Mountstuart, man of letters, is fascinating and utterly enthralling. Boyd lays out the story in the form of Mountstuart's journals, completed intermittently throughout his life, and presented with editorial annotations and footnotes.

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. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Oct 6, 2015 |
still reading...reminds me of James Salter's All That Is, very much....which is high praise
  viking2917 | Jun 25, 2015 |
I come to this review belatedly, and only after having seen the video version of this novel twice — most recently, this evening.

I first read Any Human Heart several years ago and on the recommendation of a good British friend — no, actually, on the recommendation of the daughter of a former Swiss lover who married a Brit, but who has remained a good friend (as has her daughter) ever since.

That British daughter’s recommendation assured me at the time that I’d made the right decision in almost marrying her Swiss mother — that if only in following through, I might’ve had such a daughter.

In short, I believe Any Human Heart — both the novel and the film—may be the best work of this era. And possibly the last of its kind.

I’m not optimistic about the future of literature—and Any Human Heart is literature, make no mistake about it. William Boyd’s novel — as well as the film for which he wrote the screenplay (and of which his novel is obviously the source) — are the stuff of world literature. At the very least, he has written the definitive novel of the Boomer Generation; at most, he has written a novel to compete with the best of novels of all time.

Does Any Human Heart hold the same rank as Don Quixote (the first and, in my opinion, the greatest of all novels ever written)? I’ll have to ponder that one for a while — and while I continue to read William Boyd’s other works. In the meantime, however, I can’t recommend strongly enough both the novel and the film.

Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
I enjoyed reading this book because it was written in journal form. Logan started off as such a promising young man, but in the end I really felt sorry for him. He could never be alone and when he was in a relationship with someone, it was never enough. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
I enjoyed reading this book because it was written in journal form. Logan started off as such a promising young man, but in the end I really felt sorry for him. He could never be alone and when he was in a relationship with someone, it was never enough. ( )
  nycke137 | Jul 29, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Boydprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Grady, MikeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Never say you know the last word about any human heart".
-- Henry James
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"Yo, Logan," I wrote.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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.
Haiku summary

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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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