Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘William Boyd’

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

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.

Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd

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William Boyd is an author who I’ve been working up to for some time. I started with Ordinary Thunderstorms for the simple reason that this was the book my library had on the shelf.

Ordinary Thunderstorms is a thriller which I found so exciting that I didn’t want to put the book down. I read on the train to and from work, and this is one of those books that I could have stayed on the train with, travelling all over Melbourne until I finished the story instead of getting off at Flinders Street and heading into work, had I not been the diligent, hard-working person that I am.*

The story starts with the main character, Adam Kindred walking along the bank of the Thames River in London. Adam is a climatologist who has just had a job interview, (which went well, by the way), when he gets hungry and drops in to a neighbourhood restaurant in Chelsea. During his meal, Adam speaks with another man, a fellow scientist who is dining alone. After the other man left the restaurant, Adam realises the other man left a folder of paperwork under his table. Adam picks the folder up, finds the other man’s name and phone number inside and phones him. The man is Dr Philip Wang, and he gratefully invites Adam for a drink in his apartment when he returns the folder. When Adam turns up, Philip is lying on his bed with a knife in his chest. Philip is still alive and convinces Adam to pull the knife out, but when Adam does, Philip dies.** At this point Adam hears somebody outside on Philip’s balcony, so he takes the folder and bolts.

Instead of going straight to the police Adam returns to his accommodation where he has a lucky escape from the person who was on Philip’s balcony, then realising that he might not be safe with the police, goes on the run and disappears in London.

Adam is being hunted by the police for Philip’s murder and is also being hunted by the person who killed Philip, presumably because he has Philip’s folder. Adam makes enquiries and learns that Philip was trialling an asthma treatment for children in London hospitals called Zembla-4, which is being funded by a large pharmaceutical company.

The story of how Adam managed to disappear was fascinating. By not using his phone, passport or bank cards Adam became invisible, but the social ties he made as time went on (both wanted and unwanted) were dangerous to his ongoing anonymity. Adam turns out to be a sucker for women though, which is why he was in London looking for a new job in the first place. One woman Adam meets along the way provides him with shelter and her affection, although for a price. Rita, a policewoman who works on the Thames River, seems likely to catch Adam in his campout on the riverbank at any moment.

For a thriller, this story meanders along, constantly delving into fascinating asides such as how homeless and people in terribly low socio-economic circumstances live, cult religions, the ethics (or lack of them) in big business, policing on the Thames River and work options for former SAS soldiers. There were a few sections of the story that made me squeamish and other sections that I delighted in.

From time to time I became irritated with Adam. For a scientist he didn’t always think clearly, but I was always on his side, hoping against overwhelming odds that the bad guys would be exposed and punished and the good guys would win.***

I’m keen to read more books by William Boyd but don’t want to spoil these for myself by reading others too soon. Waiting to read another is going to be a little like being on a diet, but knowing there is chocolate out there somewhere. Highly recommended.

*If this last sentence sounds a bit sucky, it is because my boss occasionally reads my reviews…

**My First Aid Certificate is well out of date, but I do remember learning that if somebody has been stabbed or impaled in any way, First Aiders are supposed to wrap the implement so it doesn’t get bumped and call an ambulance, rather than trying to remove it, which can cause as much damage as sticking it in.

***You don’t always get what you want. Not saying whether things work out okay for Adam or not, read Ordinary Thunderstorms and find out for yourself.

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