Thursday, 31 October 2013

Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart
William Boyd 
London, Penguin, 2009, 490p

It's quite nice to read a 'grown-up' novel for once. Any Human Heart contains the diaries of the fictional Logan Mountstuart, detailing his life across the twentieth century, incorporating real events and people. At different times, Logan is a writer, a spy or an art dealer; he lives in London, Paris, New York and Africa; he experiences the hardship of the Second World War, the swing of the sixties, and the simple peace of family life. I was utterly engrossed.

The diaries begin during Logan's school years, boarding in Norfolk, and travel with him all over the world. They are sporadic and often undated, with gaps filled by an omniscient, anonymous narrator. In places, there will be a gap of many years, but then they pick up again for no apparent reason. His entries vary in detail and tone, sometimes philosophical, sometimes bluntly matter of fact, but always honest. Being a well-educated writer, Logan's vocabulary is sophisticated and complex, with many words that I had to look up, but I loved the challenging nature of the novel. 

It is a magnificent account of life, true in it's everyday occurrences and extraordinary moments. As Logan states:
"Isn't this how life turns out, more often than not? It refuses to conform to your needs - the narrative needs that you feel are essential to give rough shape to your time on this earth."
Logan's life is not without drama, but it also has great sections in which nothing much happens. And yet you get drawn into the details, from the days spent hobnobbing with literary greats to the end of year reviews in which he always declares he must cut down on alcohol. 

What I admire most about this novel is the historical accuracy. There were episodes I read that seemed to be great works of literary fiction, but turned out to have actually occurred. Logan mixes with Hemingway and Virginia Woolf in the 1930's London - his fictional adventures pass cross their real lives. Later, he works for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, becoming embroiled in a murder scandal that later sees him imprisoned in Switzerland under mysterious circumstances. I was so in awe of Boyd's detailed knowledge of the twentieth century, to the point where I started to believe the fictional characters in the novel must also be real. 

Any Human Heart was a pleasure to read. It is a gift to history and literature. 

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