Review: William Boyd, Any Human Heart

Posted on Feb 18 2015 - 12:00pm by Claire Herbaux
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“For good measure I told him I’d met just about everyone – Joyce, Wells, Bennett, Woolf, Huxley, Hemingway, Waugh. As the names tripped off my tongue I could see his eyes widening and I left more and more like a museum piece, someone to be pointed out.”

A man who has lived in all decades of the twentieth century would have quite a few stories to tell…
What exactly he has to tell is recorded in the intimate journals of Logan Mountstuart, born 1906 in Uruguay, died 1991 in France.

This is a prime example of not judging a book by its cover. William Boyd wrote both the book and the screenplay and while one captured my attention and is one of the only books I have read twice, the other has left me emotionless and, quite frankly, bored.

“We keep a journal to entrap the collection of selves that forms us, the individual human being.” A journal is simply best read and not watched, no level of acting reflects the intimate thoughts and feelings as well as one’s own words.

The most wonderful part about this novel is that it escapes your mind that is it fiction. After the first read, I had gotten so lost in this person’s life that I was willing to travel to his grave in France. Much to my despair, I was reminded that Mountstuart is, in fact, a work of fiction.

“Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary – it is the respective proportion of those two categories that make that life appear interesting or humdrum.”

The life of Logan Mountstuart is most certainly extraordinary. From his early life as a writer in England to his involvement in the Second World War, his ongoing journalistic work and time spent in an art gallery to his life in a little French village. The names of the Journals only suggest what he must have experienced: The New York Journal, The African Journal, The Oxford Journal. All these journals are linked with short third person passages, explaining what happened in between and what kept Logan Mountstuart from writing. Only very few of us can say they have lived and seen as much as LMS has.
But as with anyone, life is not always what we wish it was. Mountstuart has had tough times to overcome, particularly losing loved ones.

“Describe your state of mine. Insecure. Uncertain. Feverish”

The low points in Mountstuart’s life are the passages that best expose the French style of a journal intime, a diary. It is just not about the fantastic and happy moments of life, but about honest recollections. So honest and realistic in fact, that it is difficult to criticise an author for his writing because it seems he is just publishing a journal.

While many passages showing off the strong writer that Boyd is, the love life of LMS was too present for my liking. From his teenage years at school in England to late into his senior life he seems to be a stag and needing to give an account of all his sexual thoughts, dreams and activities as well as his marriages and countless times he committed adultery. However, I cannot attribute this downside of the book to Boyd; the journals seem so authentic and he can’t edit or change a person’s diary.

The beauty of the book is the description of the public figures, artists and novelist. They are sharp, realistic and truthful and the links between the different stages of Mountstuart’s life and the people he meets come easily and are plausible. It is so realistic that Boyd went as far as later publishing a biography of artist Nat Tate, the only made up character in journals. It is fascinating to see how this one man can meet Picasso for lunch as naturally as his old school friends, stayed with politicians, helped authors, met artists and juggled the encounters throughout his life.

“Looking over the beach and the ocean as the sun begins to drop down in the west, a strange sense of pride: pride in all I’ve done and lived through, proud to think of the thousands of people I’ve met and known and the few I’ve loved.”

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