Any Human Heart – William Boyd

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Any Human Heart – William Boyd

Post by Graham on Sun Oct 21, 2018 8:51 am

I’ve always enjoyed William Boyd’s novels. No two are alike, in theme or style, but they are always absorbing and the characters intriguing and sympathetic. Any Human Heart is in the form of Logan Mountstuart’s diaries. Montstuart or LMS, the son of an expatriate English beef baron and an Argentinian mother, is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, possibly filled with corned beef. The pace is as languid as Mountstuart himself and despite the promise of a whole life he is still in his 20’s by page 175.

Mountstuart is an inveterate name dropper and the book is populated by the great and good of the early twentieth century. Hemingway, Picasso, Virginia Woolf and dozens of others play walk-on parts. The Prince of Wales cadges a light from LMS in a casual encounter in Biarritz but has a malign influence on the rest of his life.

The critics have been relatively kind but while it is readable I find it doesn’t add up to much. His page 175 summation of Ian Fleming: ‘Too spoiled, too well connected, too cosseted: everything in life has come too easily,’ would easily do for Mounstuart himself. I would say ’heart’ is what is missing. Despite his propensity for falling in love, the main object of Mountstuart’s obsession is himself and not till the latter half of the book did I feel even a twinge of compassion. Deaths of those close to him pass by with no more impact than toothache.

It is never less than interesting, each stage in LMS’s life marked by self-contained stories, from an early stint in naval intelligence, where he is betrayed, to literary success followed by abject poverty (the dogfood years). In his dotage, an involvement with Baader-Meinhof revolutionaries provides an adventurous postscript. It becomes more than a little depressing as age takes its toll but here at least it is more emotionally engaging. Nevertheless, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend it.

In the section on his life in New York running an art gallery there is a bizarre footnote referring the reader to ‘Nat Tate: An American Artist by William Boyd (21 Publishing, 1998).’ This was a novel by Boyd presented, with the connivance of David Bowie, as a genuine biography and is symptomatic of the hero and possibly the author’s self-absorption.

Graham
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