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Customer Review

83 of 85 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life is "the aggregate of [the] good luck and the bad luck", February 4, 2003
This review is from: Any Human Heart (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. By describing events through Mountstuart's experience, he is able to give a human face to people and circumstances which have influenced our history, and his choice of small details, often unique, offers a new slant on some familiar events. Boyd is particularly good at showing simultaneous events--Franco at the gates of Barcelona while Hitler is entering Prague--and his explanation of Neville Chamberlain's giving up of the Sudetenland resonates as an honest and even logical attempt to avoid the desperation of war. When Ian Fleming, who works for the Secret Service, gets Mountstuart a job in Naval Intelligence, the reader is introduced to the colorful world of the Duke of Windsor, as Mountstuart "spies" on him to make sure that the Duke's German sympathies do not make him a pawn of the enemy. Post-war, Mountstuart continues to be involved with the world of artists and writers--and world events--eventually living in Nigeria before retiring to France.

For the reader the book is a fast read, despite its length, filled with personal stories and colored by world events. Mountstuart's belief that life is just the aggregate of one's good luck and bad luck--that things simply happen--leads, of necessity, to a story which is not organized by a hidden, underlying theme. Befitting its philosophy, it is episodic and random, using the passage of time as its primary framework. Mountstuart himself accepts what happens to him, though it often saddens him, and does not agonize over what he might have done differently--he does not believe that he could have changed things. In that regard he remains one-dimensional, in many ways an Everyman for the history of the times. Fun to read, the book offers a new "take" on events which have shaped our own times, offering no lessons for the future, other than to live life, despite its ups and downs. As Mountstuart himself points out, life ultimately is a yo-yo, "a jerking spinning toy in the hands of a maladroit child." Mary Whipple
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 26, 2013 7:20:19 PM PDT
Ann Holloway says:
Excellent review! Still need to read the book, however have enjoyed watching the dvd. Your review motivates me now to read the book. Thanks for the inspiration! All the best to you!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2013 5:56:01 AM PDT
Mary Whipple says:
Thank you, Livia. You've made my morning! Hope you enjoy it! Best, Mary

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2013 5:56:03 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 27, 2013 5:56:15 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 27, 2013 10:43:22 PM PDT
moviegoer says:
Hello to Mary Whipple--I''ve just come from reading reviews of "Someone," Alice McDermott's wonderful
new novel. The writer of one review mentioned that Boyd's novel was one of the very few, along with
"Someone," that she knew she would re-read. I came here to read about the book and found your review.
I don't remember where I came across one of your reviews, but I do remember your name and the fact that
I associated it with an excellent review of a book I'd loved. I was probably going to buy the novel anyway,
but seeing your name has made it a certainty. Thank you. Happy reading.

Posted on Oct 27, 2013 11:11:54 PM PDT
moviegoer says:
p.s. I decided to look through your past reviews, thinking to find which book it was that brought about your review that stayed with
me. I went through 20 pages of reviews, though, and couldn't find it. I did find someone else who'd read "The Hair of Harold Roux,"
"Angel," "The Teleportation Accident," and "The Goon Squad" and......oh, I've forgotten the other one or two. Anyway, maybe someday
I'll come across the review which I remembered (but not quite). Again, happy reading.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2013 7:50:55 PM PDT
Mary Whipple says:
Thanks, Moviegoer. I hope you figure out what that mysterious review was. Nothing more frustrating that having something on the tip of your tongue and not being able to "get" at it. Best, Mary

Posted on Jan 3, 2015 9:11:02 PM PST
Mary, I have just belatedly read this, and pretty much enjoyed it. I must congratulate you on your review which goes further than most to show that the book has a pattern, even if only the randomness of a yoyo in the hands of a small boy. Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2015 2:30:12 PM PST
Mary Whipple says:
Thanks, Roger. That one goes WAY back! Mary
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Review Details



Mary Whipple

Location: New England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 547