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Any Human Heart Paperback – License, January 6, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Logan Gonzago Mountstuart, writer, was born in 1906, and died of a heart attack on October 5, 1991, aged 85. William Boyd's novel Any Human Heart is his disjointed autobiography, a massive tome chronicling "my personal rollercoaster"--or rather, "not so much a rollercoaster", but a yo-yo, "a jerking spinning toy in the hands of a maladroit child." From his early childhood in Montevideo, son of an English corned beef executive and his Uraguayan secretary, through his years at a Norfolk public school and Oxford, Mountstuart traces his haphazard development as a writer. Early and easy success is succeeded by a long half-century of mediocrity, disappointments and setbacks, both personal and professional, leading him to multiple failed marriages, internment, alcoholism and abject poverty.

Mountstuart's sorry tale is also the story of a British way of life in inexorable decline, as his journey takes in the Bloomsbury set, the General Strike, the Spanish Civil War, 1930s Americans in Paris, wartime espionage, New York avant garde art, even the Baader-Meinhof gang--all with a stellar supporting cast. The most sustained and best moment comes mid-book, as Mountstuart gets caught up in one of Britain's murkier wartime secrets, in the company of the here truly despicable Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Elsewhere author William Boyd occasionally misplaces his tongue too obviously in his cheek--the Wall Street Crash is trailed with truly crashing inelegance--but overall Any Human Heart is a witty, inventive and ultimately moving novel. Boyd succeeds in conjuring not only a compelling 20th century but also, in the hapless Logan Mountstuart, an anti-hero who achieves something approaching passive greatness. --Alan Stewart, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Surely one of the most beguiling books of this season, this rich, sophisticated, often hilarious and disarming novel is the autobiography of a typical Englishman as told through his lifelong journal. Born to British parents in Uruguay in 1906, Logan Mountstuart attends an English prep school where he makes two friends who will be his touchstones for the next eight decades. The early entries in his journal, which record his sexual explorations and his budding ambitions, provide a clear picture of the snobbery and genteel brutality of the British social system. Logan is a decent chap, filled with a moral idealism that he will never lose, although his burning sense of justice will prove inconvenient in later years. He goes down from Oxford with a shameful Third, finds early success as a novelist, marries a rich woman he doesn't love, escapes to Spain to fight in the civil war and is about to embark on a happy existence with his second wife when WWII disrupts his and his generation's equilibrium. He's sent on a na‹ve spying mission by British Naval Intelligence and imprisoned for two years. On his release, he finds that tragedy has struck his family. Logan's creativity is stunted, and he slides into alcoholism, chronic infidelity and loneliness. "I believe my generation was cursed by the war," Logan says, and this becomes the burden of the narrative. He resorts to journalism to earn a living, specializing in pieces about the emerging stars of the art world, whom he encounters-somewhat like Zelig-in social situations. Logan's picaresque journey through the 20th century never seems forced, however. His meetings with Picasso, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hemingway and Ian Fleming are adroitly and credibly interposed into the junctures of his life. This flawed yet immensely appealing protagonist is one of Boyd's most distinctive creations, and his voice-articulate, introspective, urbane, stoically philosophical in the face of countless disappointments-engages the reader's empathy. Logan is a man who sees his bright future dissipate and his great love destroyed, and yet can look back with "a strange sense of pride" that he's "managed to live in every decade of this long benighted century." His unfulfilled life, with his valiant efforts to be morally responsible, to create and, finally, just to get by, is a universal story, told by a master of narrative. Boyd, back in top form, has crafted a novel at least as beautifully nuanced as A Good Man in Africa and Brazzaville Beach. Logan's journal entries are so candid and immediate it's difficult to believe he isn't real. And after 496 pages, it's hard to say good-bye.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031001
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031009
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Boyd is the author of ten novels, including A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; and Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Life, as understood by Logan Mountstuart, is a series of random events, not events which are fated, controlled by a higher power, or the result of carefully made decisions. There's nothing and no one to blame for whatever good or bad luck we may have in life. A person may choose to enjoy the good times, seek out happiness wherever possible, and live life to the fullest or sit back passively and just endure whatever happens. Logan Mountstuart is one of the former types, a man who recognizes that "Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary--it is the respective proportions of those categories that make life appear interesting." But Mountstuart also believes that one can look for and find the extraordinary within the ordinary.

Through his personal journals, begun in 1923, when he is seventeen, and continuing to the time of his death in 1991, we come to know Mountstuart intimately, both as an individual, growing and changing, and as an Everyman, someone who participates in and is affected by the seminal events of the 20th century, after World War I. Because he is a writer, he is able to travel and to know other writers and artists of the period. When he meets Aldous Huxley, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, and Ian Fleming, the reader has the vicarious fun of being there and meeting them, too, since Mountstuart, as a person, appears to be very much like the rest of us. He buys early paintings by Paul Klee and Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso draws a quick portrait of him and signs it. He engages in intellectual discussions about Braque, Picasso, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the Bloomsbury group and keeps the reader aware of literary and artistic achievements of the era.

It is in his depiction of the historical moment that Boyd shines.
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79 of 83 people found the following review helpful By C F Taber on June 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Once again William Boyd has produced a jewel. His ability to bring true history into a novel is totally unmatched. But even Boyd has outdone his last few publications with "Any Human Heart," not since "Brazzaville Beach" has he written such a page turner. This book flows effortlessly from cracking good tale to tragic reflection. His creation of this heroic character Logan Mountstuart left me crying at certain points in the book, and I can assure you I have never done that while reading a book before. Boyd uses a diary as a vehicle to detail the facts and emotions of Logan's life, and this adds to the drama, suspense and pain of his story.
If you have the time and you are looking for a summer assignment, go to the book store and purchase William Boyd's library. Read them in any order you like. But if you are looking for one excellent example of this writer's genius, then Any Human Heart is a great place to start. I cannot recommend any book more highly.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By john on February 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
this novel is so brilliant, so swiftly paced and poetically composed, i can hardly do it justice. i have read (and taught in university courses) Boyd's books over and over again down the years (a fav is The New Confessions) and Any Human Heart rates right up there with the best work he's done. there's a real melancholia evident here--so those who are looking for the hilarity of such early works as A Good Man in Africa or On the Yankee Station are gonna be puzzled a tad. Logan Mountstuart is a great pleased, especially as i didn't like Armadillo and The Blue Afternoon--despite the fact that, with Ian McEwan, Wm Boyd is my favorite contemporary novelist. get this as soon as you can...
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was not familiar with William Boyd's work and picked up this novel because it sounded intriguing. It is an exceptional book, managing to be at once a moving personal story, a brief (and often funny) history of the arts and politics of the 20th century, and an examination of a society in decline. The protagonist's meetings with historical characters, from Picasso and Hemingway to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, are surprisingly convincing and never seem like a "gimic." I found the second half of the book somewhat less convincing than the first, and I got rather tired of the hero's obsession with his [physical] life, but all in all--a great read. I will look for more William Boyd.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful By J. F Malysiak on March 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A good, sometimes brilliant, effort by William Boyd: a fictional diary spanning the bulk of the 20th centry "written" by a minor British literary figure. I found sections of this novel extremely compelling: the World War Two diaries, the New York diary, and parts of the diaries devoted to his life and education at Oxford in the 1920s. Other sections I found rather ponderous, particularly the latter sections set in Nigeria and France. Since this book is structured in the form of a diary, it lacks the forward narrative drive of a good novel. This isn't necessarily problematic but, to this reader anyway, the book drags toward the end where a novel should be building to its dramatic peak. Still, however, Boyd succeeds in conveying the sense of disillusionment and sadness of growing old and wondering "is that all there is?"
Perhaps Boyd's greatest success here is the way he manages to recreate time and place. These "diaries" feel very real and each page comes alive with authenticity.
If you're looking for an introduction to William Boyd, better start with an earlier novel of his "The Ice Cream War." For all its merits, "Any Human Heart" is an acquired taste. It requires patience in long stretches, but overall, the effort does reap some rewards.
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