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William Boyd’s, “Any Human Heart” will capture yours.




“To my intense and gratifying embarrassment Mr. Holden-Dawes commended my essay on Dryden to the English upper sixth as a model of the form. ‘I’m sure that if any of you seek enlightenment Mountstuart will allow a private reading for a modest fee,’ he said. (Unkindly, I though: H-D has a malicious streak. But perhaps he was simply sensing the blooming of my overweening pride?)”


And so begins the diary of Logan Mountstuart; a precocious, bookish student whose life will span 85 years, the greater part of a century, and whose journal entries follow brilliantly along mimicing the self-involved reflections and confessions that can be mirrored in any human heart – love, lust, loss, ambition, humiliation, resignation and with any luck–peace.

While reading William Boyd’s eighth novel, Any Human Heart (Alfred A. Knopf, New York) I am hoping for an osmotic transference of his brilliant prose. Even if a few turns of phrase creep into my writing that would be a help. He pocesses the loquacious precision and bitchy tone of those opportuned Brits who have had a scrupulous education during which they were likely to have been alternately savaged and regulated — elevated and demoted, according to their social standing and intellectual capacity. Each trial contributes to his keen empiric skills and the development of his acerbic wit, which borders on comedic satire.

Half way through (if you are lucky) the reader realizes this is a fabricated life, not a genuine diary. Boyd’s purpose with the series of journals inspired by his main character Logan Mountstuart, is to encapsulate the history of the twentieth century through the reflection of one life in a brilliant and believable way. From the rollicking hijinks of public school [which North Americans refer to as private school] where Mountstuart and his two closest schoolmates challenge each other to various dares in order to liven up the term: Mountstuart is a dedicated intellect who spurns sports and is dared to, not only join the rugby team, but to win some athletic distinction; Ben Leepling a Jew must attempt to convert to Catholicism to the point of being considered for the priesthood; and the shy, lanky and introverted Peter Scabious must seduce a local farmgirl they’ve spotted around the grounds and obtain a witnessed kiss.

The trio of students graduate, go forth into college, each with varying degrees of success, establish their careers, fall in and out of marriages and relationships, and their travels take the reader on a tour of the great events of the twentieth century in successive journal entries divided into sections of Logan’s life: the school journal, the Oxford journal, the London Journal, the second World War journal, the post WW journal, and locations from Africa to New York, the UK and back to France.

An additional treat is the intersecting of Logan’s life with historic political, social and artistic characters— many of whom we assume are Boyd’s own literary mentors and icons. He parties with Eveleyn Waugh in Oxford, runs into Hemingway in Paris, is handed over five Miro canvases during the war in Spain, is sent to spy on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Bahamas, marries Stella and has a child, remarries Freya and has a child, looses loved ones in the war and struggles with his writing career after the war, takes on various jobs and lifestyles which define the ill-at-ease-character of a Britisher in the big world who invariably can neither change or completely conform to his surroundings, whether at home or abroad.

As the journals progress through Mountstuart’s life, we see his ambitions and desires distill into the fundamental drives of life itself: preservation of self and species, and that one final desire of mankind for imperpetuitous stature.

This is an excellent novel, and well worth reading as an introduction to other of William Boyd’s works. His first book brought him literary acclaim when A Good Man in Africa won him the Whitbred award for first novel. His entry into the firmament continued with awards for subsequent works including the James Tait Memorial Prize, the Ryse Prize, The Booker Prize, Los Angles Times Book Award among others. In 2005 he was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) Click on the link to purchase your copy of this most complete novel.

William Boyd has adapted two of his books into screenplays and written another nine. Born in Accra, Ghana he attended university in Nice, Glasgow and Oxford. He lives in London and southwest France with his wife. By Paula Shackleton, BookBuffet Editor

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