Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart

infobox Book |
name = Any Human Heart
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = William Boyd
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Vintage
pub_date = 2002
english_pub_date =
media_type = Print (Paperback)
pages = 480 pp
isbn = ISBN 1400031001
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Any Human Heart", William Boyd (writer)'s 2002 novel, took thirty months to research. It is the intimate journal of the writer Logan Mountstuart and is written in the style of a biography but is actually pure fiction - the same device the author used in "The New Confessions" and "" (although in this case the reader is fully aware that it is fiction).

The book concerns the life of Logan Mountstuart, a Zelig-type figure with a habit of popping up at pivotal moments in 20th century history and teetering on the brink of immortality, before inevitably plunging back into unhappy obscurity. In the novel, Boyd weaves an invented life into the fabric of history, with characters such as Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh showing up at parties and brief meetings on the street. Even the fictional artist Nat Tate makes a brief appearance.

As Boyd himself says in an interview about the journal and his protagonist, Logan:

cquote| I am fascinated by the life and work of that generation of English writers who were born at the beginning of the century and reached maturity by the time of World War II. People like Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene and Anthony Powell, obviously, but also less well known writers—Henry Greene, Laurence Durrell, Cyril Connolly and Wiliam Gerhardie. The last two in particular lurk closely behind Logan. I wanted to invent my own exemplary figure who could seem almost as real as the real ones and whose life followed a similar pattern: boarding school, university, Paris in the 20s, the rise of Fascism, war, post-war neglect, disillusion, increasing decrepitude, and so on—a long, varied and rackety life that covered most of the century. [Book Browse, Author Interview, "Any Human Heart", [] ]

Plot summary

This journal of Uruguayan-born, British-bred writer Logan Mountstuart spans the defining episodes of the twentieth century and crosses several continents in tracking the meandering life of a modern man-of-letters through a convoluted sequence of relationships and literary endeavors. He uses the diary as a means of exploring how public events impinge on individual consciousness, so that Mountstuart’s journal alludes almost casually to the war, the death of a prime minister or the abdication of the king. But Boyd also uses it to play ironically on the theme of literary celebrity, bringing his protagonist into contact with a series of 'real' writers in a sequence of comic or petty encounters – a spat with Virginia Woolf in London, a possible sexual encounter with Evelyn Waugh at Oxford, a clumsy exchange with James Joyce in Paris over the translation of the term "scribouillard". ["scribouillard" is a pen pusher, scrivener (GB), a pencil pusher (US).] The novel commences with Mountstuarts early childhood in Montivideo, Uruguay before he returns to live in Birmingham, England with his English father, the managing director of a corn beef company and Mercedes, his Uruguayan mother. His time at school passes uneventfully, although he and his two close friends set each other challenges in the last term. Mountstuart is to get into the school's first XV rugby team (a sport he detests), Peter has to fall in love with Tess, a local farmer's daughter, and Ben, a lapsed Jew, has to convert to Roman Catholicism. He then gains an Exhibition to Oxford and, despite his best efforts, gains a third in History and leaves to start his writing career. Settling in London, he works hard on his book on Shelley, called "The Mind's Imaginings", which is finally published to good critical claim. He follows this up with his first novel, "The Girl Factory", which becomes a best seller (despite having awful reviews) owing to its salacious content. As an up and coming young author, Logan is able to embark on a series of amorous encounters after losing his virginity to Tess after she becomes Peter's wife)and, after being rejected by Land Forthergill whom he first meets at Oxford, he ends up marrying Lottie, an Earl's daughter. They set up house together at Thorpe Hall in Norfolk where Logan turns to drink as a result of his idleness and inability to write, the products of stagnating down in the country.

Despite having a son, Logan meets Freya Deverell whilst on holiday in Portugal. He buys a flat in Chelsea where he and Freya, a secretary at the BBC, pursue a clandestine romance. Just before he departs for Barcelona to cover the Spanish Civil War, Lottie and a friend visit him at Glebe Place to drop off his manuscript and quickly realize there is a woman living with him. On his return to England, he is confronted by her brother and the family's solicitor. Following an acrimonious divorce, Logan marries Freya at the Chelsea Town Hall, the only drawback being is his limited access to his son, Lionel. The newly-weds move to a house in Battersea where Freya gives birth to their daughter, Stella.

The Second World War breaks out and Logan Mountstuart is recruited by Ian Fleming to work for Naval Intelligence Division (NID) where Fleming in number two in the hierarchy. They send him on a mission to Portugal to monitor the behaviour of Edward, Duke of Windsor, and Wallace Simpson before they move to the Bahamas where he has been appointed Governor. Fleming decides to send Mountstuart out there as well as NID believe the Duke is involved in currency speculation with Axel Wenner-Gren, a Swedish millionaire and suspected Nazi sympathizer. In the guise of a naval commander of a HDML 1122 anti-submarine vessel, Mountstuart befriends the couple again, particularly as he is a useful golfing partner for the Duke, and everything goes well until the murder of Sir Harry Oakes. Mountstuart believes the Duke has some hand in it after two hand-picked American detectives ask him to incrimate Oakes' son-in-law with false fingerprint evidence. He refuses to do and is consequently labelled a Judas by Wallace Simpson. Logan's war comes to an end when he is captured by Swiss police attempting to pose as a Uruguayan ship owner - a role he adopts as part of NID's efforts to trap Nazis attempting to flee to South America as their war is lost. After languishing in prison and only released some months after the war's end, he is stunned to discover that Freya married an Icelandic diplomat and was killed, along with Stella, by a V-2 bomb whilst walking her daughter home from school.

In the Post-War section of the journal, Mountstuart's life collapses as he seeks refuge in an alcoholic daze to escape his extreme misery. After spending some time living in his mother's London house (Mercedes has been forced to take on lodgers as a result of losing all her savings in the US stock market crash), Logan buys 10B Turpentine Lane, a small basement flat in Pimlico. He decides to return to Paris to complete work on his novella, "The Villa by the Lake", staying with his old friend Ben who is a now a successful gallery owner. However, after a failed sexual encounter with Ordile, a young French girl working at Ben's gallery, he attempts suicide but is discovered by the girl when she returns an hour later for her Zippo lighter.

Ben Leeping offers Mountstuart the position of manager of his newly-opened gallery in New York, Leeping Fils, so that he can keep a watchful eye on Marius Leeping, the former's stepson. Logan enjoys his new position at the heart of the "avant garde" artistic world, meeting famous artists like de Kooning (whom he admires) and Jackson Pollock (whom he hates), and even moves in with a beautiful tall American lawyer, Alannah, and her two young daughters. On his return to London, he also has an affair with the buxom Gloria, Peter Scabius' third wife (Peter has become a very successful author in his own right), as well as Janet, a New York gallery owner. He has one final re-encounter with the Windsors at a Metropolitan Art Museum bash and is asked by the host to leave at their request. Logan eventually discovers Alannah having her own affair with a TV executive so the couple split. He is also reconciled with son, Lionel, who has moved to New York to manage a music group, and they slowly become reconciled with each other until Lionel suffocates in his own vomit after a lover's tiff with this girlfriend, Monday. Following the funeral, Monday moves into Lous's flat which they share amicably until he sees her standing naked in front of the fridge one day. They finally sleep together but it all turns sour when her father turns up and Louis discovers - to his horror - that she is only sixteen (having told him she was nineteen). His lawyer advises him to get out of the States quickly as he could be prosectuted for third-degree rape. So he ends up in his Pimlico flat once more.

The African journal now takes over, with Logan working as a lecturer in the Department of English Literature at the University College of Ikiri in Nigeria. He takes up the post as he is keen to distance himself as far as he can from the long arm of US law. A new magazine, "Polity", commissions him to write some articles on the Biafran war and he tags along at the front-line with Colonel 'Jack' Okoli, the leader of the Nigerian Army who insists on calling Mountstuart 'Commnader' when he learns he served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. After reaching his retirement, Mountstuart is forced to return to London where he only has his old age pension and minuscule U.C. Ikiri pension to live on, apart from some odd consultancy work for Leeping "Freres". Now an old man, he is knocked over by a speeding post office van and is hospitalized at St Botolph's with a burst spleen and fractured skull. He recovers but is now completely destitute, forced to eke out his miserable existence on cheap and often very strange food. One day, while shopping in a supermarket, he looks at a tin of dog meat misplaced in the meat section, and is tempted by the rabbit-flavoured dog meat ('plump chunklets of rabbit nestling in a dark rich gravy':

In an effort to boost his income and also to publicise the dire situation of patients in hospitals, he joins the Socialist Patients Kollective (SPK) which turns out to be a cell of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, run by an ex-Cambridge student called John Irvine. He becomes the SPK's prize newspaper-seller but it all goes wrong when he is sent to Waldbach in Germany and then Switzerland, accompanied by two young women Petra and Ingeborg (both terrorists) to exchange money for a packet containing sticks of gelignite. He decides to hide his suitcase in the garden of his French property in Sainte-Sabine (left to him by a French poet, Cyprien), and after briefly being interrogated by Special Branch at the Royal Army Medical Hospital, he is released to return to his former life of penury in London.

The final section is the French Journal. Louis sells up his Pimlico flat to his neighbours, the helpful Mr Singh and his family, and retires on the proceeds to Cinq Cypres, keen to escape Mrs Thatcher and a Britain he can no longer tolerate. He enjoys his new lifestyle, introducing himself as an "ecrivain" who is working on a major work of fiction called "Octet". He has periodical sex with Francine, a middle-aged housewife/prostitute in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, until her neighbours start complaining about her clients. He also socializes with a new Parisienne neighbour, Francine Dupetit, who he fancies but nothing comes of it when she closes up her newly-restored chateau after finding out that her father was not the famous local Resistance hero he always claimed to be. As he contemplates his past life and hears about the death of Peter and Ben, his old school friends, he states:

Which seems an apt summary of the extraordinary life of an extraordinary man that spans every decade of the twentieth century (1906 - 1991).

Themes/Narrative Structure

Logan's voice gradually changes as he grows up and understands more of how life works - something that lies at the very heart of the journal's spontaneity. William Boyd was asked in an interview if it was difficult to age Logan from a young student to an old man:

cquote|This was another challenge and to do with one of the main themes in the book, namely that we as people are not consistent and unchanging and that over the course of a life we are actually many different "selves" — not one self. I wanted the literary tone of each journal to reflect this and so the voice subtlety changes as you read on: from pretentious school boy to modern young decadent, to bitter realist to drink soaked cynic, to sage and serene octogenarian, and so forth. I wanted the reader to have a palpable sense of Logan ageing and changing as he's buffeted by life and struggles onward. [Book Browse, Author Interview, "Any Human Heart", [] ]


"Any Human Heart", William Boyd, Penguin Books, 2003, ISBN 0-141-00928-4

External links

* "The Daily Telegraph", 2002-04-16, "William Boyd: the magician of realism" []
* "The Guardian" Book Club, November 11, 2006, "The heart has its reasons" [,,1944900,00.html]
* "Financial Times", April 2002, "Fellow travelling with the famous" []
* "FT Weekend", 2002-04-27, The Front Line: "Success with a wry smile" []
* Bookbrowse interview with William Boyd, "Any Human Heart" []

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