William Boyd's latest novel, ANY HUMAN HEART, focuses on the life of Logan Mountstuart --- a writer, friend, lover and world traveler. His fascinating story is revealed through daily journal entries; his personal day-to-day writings relate his movements, thoughts and whereabouts.
The journals begin with Mountstuart's boyhood in Uruguay and then move to Oxford and the publication of his first book. We next travel with him to Paris --- where he rubs shoulders with the likes of Hemingway, Picasso and Joyce --- and Spain, where he covers its civil war.
During World War II, Mountstuart becomes a naval intelligence officer and befriends the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (though this eventually turns sour). Following the war, he goes to New York as an art dealer, to Africa as a literature professor, to London and finally to France, where he lives out the rest of his days. All the while, we watch him grow up through his musings and his rich life, which is characterized by friends, family, drugs, lovers, artists, booze, military men, fiends and foes, happiness and sadness, triumphs and personal tragedies. It is, journal entry after entry, the entire makeup of a life fully lived.
Logan Mountstuart is like Forrest Gump in a way. He is able to meet some extraordinary people and be embroiled in a number of important events. But this does not happen because of a goal or a determination to get someplace --- he just happens to be there at the time. Oh! There's Virginia Woolf again. Oh! Jackson Pollack is a charlatan. The Duchess is vindictive! Poor Hemingway, why did he have to shoot himself? Boyd brings all of these people and events into sharp focus, using a fictional character that you swear is real.
Boyd does throw events and people at Mountstuart with a bit too much gusto at times. The writer thinks to himself: How can I make his life a little more interesting right now? The story is beginning to drag. Yes, okay, I'll ship him off to Nigeria during its Civil War. Hmmm, the writer muses, what funny thing can happen to an old man who has traveled the world? Of course, have him fall in with some sort of terrorist cell.
All in all, however, ANY HUMAN HEART is an accomplished piece. It brings together those small, seemingly insignificant details of one's life (breakfasts, vacations, weather reports), puts them up against world events and shows how one's life slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, changes from one day to the next. I'm hungry so I'll end here. Perhaps I'll cook up some scallops and eat them outside. It's bright and sunny but a bit cold. I'll have to wear a hat.
Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 20, 2011
Any Human Heart: The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart