Yet another intriguing, intelligently written book by book board favourite William Boyd.
The protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, is a writer whose life spans every decade of the C20th. By turns heroic/anti-heroic and, at times, somewhat quixotic, his life has highs, lows and even boring bits when he’s stuck in a rut. Boyd cleverly reduces these latter to a minimum by compiling the novel from a series of journals written by LMS during his life. When LMS was in a rut, there was no journal. Hey presto – all the editing is done. The advantage of this is that the reader is not bored with the minutiae of life. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to keep track of time.
There’s a good mix of mood here: humour in the jolly boarding school escapades of LMS as a teen; bitchiness in the successful years as a young author and journalist (dishing the dirt on Hemingway, Woolf, Waugh, etc); adventure during the Second World War (seasoned with the intrigues of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor!).
The real accomplishment in Boyd’s format is that LMS goes into a slow inreversible decline after WWII and yet the journals remain interesting, for by turns he lives in New York, Nigeria, London and France. We don’t really notice his downhill slide until we meet him as a pensioner trying to eek out an existence in 1980’s London. I found these pages terribly, terribly poignant (and a little terrifying to be honest). I was very pleased when LMS escaped to live out his days in relative comfort in a delapidated French cottage.
I did think “Any Human Heart” a little patchy. I found the New York section a little vacuous – but, then, maybe that’s how life was in the 1960’s arty circle. But I am nit-picking. On the whole this is another triumphant novel from the pen of an author who, in my eyes, is now an unsung national treasure.
P.S Boyd’s fictional artist Nat Tate features as a subsidiary character in the New York section. Seems Boyd just couldn’t resist rubbing the art world’s nose in it just one more time!