Book Review: Any Human Heart by William Boyd
“That’s all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience. Everything is explained by that simple formula. Tot it up – look at the respective piles. There’s nothing you can do about it: nobody shares it out, allocates it to this one or that, it just happens. We must quietly suffer the laws of man’s condition, as Montaigne says.” – Logan Mounstuart
I have watched the television adaptation of Any Human Heart some two years ago. When I learned that it was based from a book, I immediately set my sights on acquiring the inspiration for such a story of a compelling protagonist. It was a hard journey from book store to book store that, at first, didn’t even have a record of stocking such a book to having it out of stock. Finally, I acquired the book some months ago and, feeling excited but anxious, read it not immediately but until I felt that I was ready.
Any Human Heart is told through the journals of the main character, Logan Gonzago Mounstuart or LMS in the footnotes. He is a half-British, half-Uruguayan male that grew up in Uruguay. However, his journals began in his final year at public school before he goes to Oxford and then ends at his death. LMS is an erratic diarist with entries in his diaries sometimes updated daily and most of the time skipping months and even years.
He only updates his journals when there is something astounding that is happening with his life and such astounding events are plenty in his eventful life. He becomes a published writer of acclaimed books; an experienced traveler; a spy; a respected journalist and art dealer; a teacher in Nigeria; and an eccentric old man. He has been married three times and engaged in countless affairs and he has met cultural celebrities. He became friends with Hemingway and Picasso; had a quarrel with Virginia Woolf; been kissed by Evelyn Waugh (or so he says); and drew the hatred of the Duke of Windsor.
Logan has led an eventful life but it has nevertheless left him in poverty at the end of his life. However, he muses and looks back upon his life one day at the beach as he is observing a group of young teenagers. He realizes that whatever state that he is in, he has led a good life and he doubts if the life of teenagers that he is watching can match his own. LMS has experienced almost all the major events of the 20th century: the Spanish Civil War, the abdication crisis in England, the Second World War, and the rise of avant-garde Paris and New York to name a few. LMS has lived and the 20th century was his companion.
As I read the book, I observed with glee that LMS is changing with every segment of his journal. He is cocky and sure of himself in his youth; then he becomes more restrained but still ambitious in his middle age; and, finally, he becomes content and simple in his old age. William Boyd has given LMS depth and character and has filled LMS both good and bad traits in order to create a truly compelling character. Boyd also intermingles the mundane events of LMS’ life with exciting ones to create an atmosphere of authenticity. The execution was just right in the middle of underwhelming and overwhelming.
Reading Any Human Heart is as if I was reading the journals of a person that really existed. The book even has a bibliography of LMS at the back of the page as if telling the reader that there are more works of LMS to be found in book stores. How I wish that LMS were a true person and that I can read his other works that, based on the descriptions in Any Human Heart, were triumphs of literature. But LMS seems to be determined to remain in the realm of fiction and, even though us readers cannot read more of his works, we are blessed to have read Any Human Heart.