Boyd’s Any Human Heart

Again, I’m a bit late coming to a modern classic, which is odd as I’ve enjoyed so many of William Boyd’s novels (such as A Good Man in Africa and Armadillo)  and essays about literature, and I had the pleasure of hearing him give a talk about his writing. I should have been up on this years ago.

Forgive me if you’re already familiar with this story – it was, after all, made into a miniseries for Channel 4 in the UK and won a few Emmys when it appeared in the US in 2010. In the original book, the story is told through the journals of Logan Mountstuart, following his life as a chronicler of the twentieth century Anglo-European and American experience.  As an avid journal writer, I could identify with the use of journals to not only record one’s life, but to better understand oneself. Logan writes, ‘We keep a journal to entrap that collection of selves that forms us, the individual human being.’ Humorous in their raw honesty about sexuality and human weaknesses, these journal entries reflect the eclectic prose style of Logan, who is a reviewer of art and a war correspondent along with being an author of fiction and non-fiction.

With some degree of notoriety, Logan finds himself hobnobbing with Ian Fleming, Hemingway, Picasso, Evelyn Waugh and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. This latter encounter grows into a friendship of sorts during the war when Logan finds himself working for the UK intelligence services. For those of you who enjoy unsolved murders, Boyd gives us another interpretation of the famous murder of Sir Harry Oakes in Nassau in 1943 when the Duke of Windsor was governor there. Boyd wrote for The Guardian about his fascination with this true-life mystery and the poetic license taken when embedding it into his novel.

This book also presents an acute self-awareness that lifts this story away from being merely about its espionage plotlines and celebrity characters. For this reader, the most poignant of Logan’s realisations occurs later in life, acknowledging what he brought on himself, such as failed relationships, mixed into a life of happenstance. From my teenage years well through to my twenties I believed that I was responsible for all that happened to me. Bad things that happened were my own fault as I had somehow ‘projected’ them. Realising the roles played by society (especially for women) and twists of fate (with no obvious cause or agent), I have expunged this warped new-age thinking from my life. My conclusions are now similar to Logan Mountstuart’s – life is a mélange of what we bring to it and what is thrown at us – good or bad.

Even though I came to Any Human Heart rather late, its ideas, in their universality, still apply. A sign of a worthwhile read.

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