Book reviews

Any Human Heart was my latest foray into William Boyd’s back catalogue. The story was completely different to the others I’ve read while being equally as good.

Any Human Heart is written as the journal of a fictional character, Logan Mountstuart. The book contained annotations and an index at the back with page references to real people, places and events which made it seem as if Logan were a real person. Logan was a writer and the people in his life were a who’s who of the writing and arts world as well as fictional versions of society figures. They included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Picasso and many others, all of whom lived their lives alongside the fictional characters.

The journal began when Logan was a teenager in school with his two best friends during the early 1920s. It continued through Logan’s University years followed by his early successes as a writer, the effects of the stock market crash of the late 1920s on his family’s finances, then his marriage and the birth of his daughter before he met a woman who became the love of his life. World War Two interrupted Logan’s life enormously and significantly changed the life he had expected to live after the war ended.

As well as being a writer, Logan was also an art collector and at various times during his life owned works by many of the most famous artists of his times. He had very strong ideas of what was good art and what was not, and I was amused to learn that Logan had a very low opinion of Jackson Pollock’s works (an opinion still shared by many older Australians who were outraged when the Labour Government of the time controversially purchased Blue Poles for a record price in 1973. These days the estimated price of the painting make the purchase a good buy, but the value of the painting as art is still a talking point).

The places where Logan lived were diverse and included Uruguay, England, France, the United States of America as well as a stint in Nigeria.

Logan isn’t perfect and he doesn’t pretend to be, at least to himself in his journals.

One small complaint is that I felt Logan’s story had the potential to play with my emotions far more than it actually did. For example, some sections left me feeling happy but not overjoyed, or sad but not gutted. I felt as if the author was capable of pulling at my heartstrings had he wanted to but restrained himself.

Despite this, Any Human Heart is very good and I am loving working my way through William Boyd’s books.

Comments on: "Any Human Heart by William Boyd" (21)

  1. Another one I loved, though my memories of it are rather vague now. They did a dreadful adaptation of it for TV a few years ago – I only made it halfway through the first episode. Avoid it! I wish I could find time to read more of his back catalogue and also re-read some of them… one day!

  2. Thanks for the warning. I don’t watch much television so probably won’t ever see this. Surely someone could invent something to give us more reading time 😀

  3. Ha ha! I was about to tell you that there was a brilliant adaptation on tv a few years ago! 😂😂 I liked it anyway! (And now I want to know what turned FF off so strongly!) As for the book, I enjoyed it too but I agree with you about the restrained emotions. In part I assume this is a part of Logan’s character – he’s a bloke after all 😉 But Boyd seems to write in this style from what little else of his that I’ve tried. (I now can’t remember what I’ve read; I muddle him and Sebastian Faulkes who writes in a similar vein imo) I’ve never quite decided whether I like either of them and keep promising myself a proper exploration of their work. *sigh*

  4. I haven’t read any William Boyd but this sounds right up my street, and I won’t touch the TV series – thanks for the warning FF!

  5. Oh, Sandra, that is so funny! And now I’m torn, because I trust both of your judgements!
    Logan’s restraint was very ‘bloke-y,’ and you’re right, some of his other characters have been too.
    I hadn’t noticed the similarities between William Boyd and Sebastian Faulkes’ books, but now you’ve pointed it out… Did you ever read Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Faulkes? I loved it and as it was the first book I read by him, I associate his other books with that one.

  6. I think you’d like William Boyd’s books, Jane. But now I’m torn, Sandra said the tv series was brilliant! 😂

  7. Rose, I’ve been checking on which books I’ve read by Faulks and Boyd and really, I haven’t read that many. Certainly not enough to have a valid opinion on them as authors. Because I consistently muddle them up I think that I’ve read more by each of them! From Faulks I’ve read Birdsong and Engleby, from Boyd Any Human Heart and Restless. I must make more effort! So no, I’ve not read the Jeeves but it sounds fun. I shall try it. I suspect it will be nothing like his other books!

  8. That’s funny! Maybe I’ll wait and see if it comes my way instead of seeking it out and then make a decision. . .

  9. I started with Jeeves which was loads of fun, then was surprised by how serious Faulkes’ other books were.
    Have you enjoyed the books you’ve read by these authors?

  10. Fair enough! If a book is meant to come your way then it will.

  11. Birdsong is considered a classic. Perhaps because I had high expectations it disappointed me a little. I liked it but probably need to read it again to appreciate it properly. Engleby is dark. Unreliable narrator. It was a book club choice and I struggled through until the closing chapters when it suddenly became worthwhile. Some books are like that, don’t you find? Any Human Heart I really enjoyed and have read twice. Restless is good, not sure that I’d read it again. I think Boyd and Faulks are masculine writers. Not that I’m suggesting that they write primarily for a male audience; it’s how a girlfriend (who loves these authors) described her preferences. A focus on story and forward momentum maybe. I’m happy with books that don’t go very far but linger on the interior life. Frankly, I’m in awe of all writers who can pull off either type of book and leave their audience feeling that the characters are real.


  12. No I’ll definitely read the book, the TV series I’ll wait for!

  13. I cried several times while reading Birdsong and I’m not usually a crier. I haven’t been as taken with Faulkes’ short stories but have thought that the actual writing in everything of his which I’ve read is exceptionally good. I haven’t read Engleby but it sounds different again.
    The turning point (when it’s there) is a joy, isn’t it? Book clubs are definitely good for our growth.
    I think your friend is right when she described these authors as masculine writers. Their main characters are more often male and their stories follow men’s lives, which to use your term only show glimpses of their interior lives.
    My favourite author is Jane Austen, and my preference is for female authors who write female characters with all of their emotions. I have to make an effort to choose books by male authors for this reason.

  14. You’ve explained the masculine/feminine thing so well – thanks for that, Rose. And noting your love of Jane Austin has me thinking. I love her novels too. I’m reading a follow-on from her fragment, The Watsons, at the moment and although I’m enjoying it very much it also serves to show me how brilliant she was. But I also love Dickens. (I still have much more of his work to read.) And he is at his weakest when it comes to creating female characters. Isn’t it great that we have such variety to choose from! And I agree that it’s sometimes necessary to push outside our comfort zone and personal preferences. There are always nuggets to be discovered even from authors and genres that we think we don’t enjoy. (The joys of books clubs!)

  15. I think I only repeated back to you what you said! (Or what your friend said…)
    Isn’t The Watsons tantalising?
    I’ve only just learned to appreciate Dickens but didn’t notice weaker female characters (too delighted with Pip, Joe and Mr Wemmick) 😀

  16. lol well you put it more clearly! And yes, isn’t it! I read The Watsons on the back of the fragment of Sanditon. So interesting to read them back to back and notice the changes in her style. Of the two, I much preferred The Watsons.

    I also came late to Dickens but I’m loving him now. And the female character weakness theory came from Clare Tomalin’s biography of Dickens. (Do I ever have an original thought, I ask myself?) I Loved Mr Wemmick!

  17. I don’t think I have original thoughts either but they are new to me when I have them! I loved Mr Wemmick too! Might have to read a few more Dickens’ books then try the biography.
    I’m tempted to read The Watson’s and Sandton fragments now to see Jane Austen’s style changes for myself 😀

  18. I spent a whole day yesterday spelling Austen as Austin…. Ugh!! 🤦‍♀️

  19. Oh, some days are like that…

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