Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 21, 2010

William Boyd’s Any Human Heart

Cover of "Any Human Heart"

Cover of Any Human Heart

I read Any Human Heart by Boyd for the first time in 2007 and gave a bit of a running commentary here :  at the time I thought it was quite a sad book.  I suppose it is, but no more than any other account of a life.  Most lives have their ups and downs.    Having  reread the book, in anticipation of the much-advertised Channel 4 TV adaptation in four parts and which starts tonight, I don’t really think so much that it is a sad book, but more a great  novel that no one should miss.  If you have not read it yet, go and get it, get lost in it, lost in the whole of the 20th century as experienced by Logan Mountstuart and recorded in his journals.  What a fantastic ride it is.  I shall probably read it again in a couple of years’ time.  It is reads as the journal of a real person, someone who really did meet Hemingway, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, someone who went over to cover the Spanish Civil War, who unwittingly became involved with the Baader Meinhoff gang in Germany and much much more. 

When I started rereading the book I remembered little of the story, mixing it up somehow with another story, that of Barbara Kingsolver‘s the Lacuna.  Once I got started however it all came back to me and I once more thoroughly savoured Boyd’s approach of writing the story in the form of a journal, the reality of it.  In Boyd’s words:

‘We keep a journal to entrap that collection of selves that forms us, the individual human being. …… a true journal presents us with the more riotous and disorganised reality.  The various stages are there but they are jumbled up, counterposed and repeated randomly.’

A real encouragement to take journal writing seriously: events and observations are haphazard, without knowledge about what will come next, so whatever seemed important and significant three years ago may very well have fallen of the shelf altogether in the passage of time.  Good to remember that.

I am greatly looking forward to the tv adaptation of this book, which was written by Boyd himself.  Today’s Observer provides a four page pull out section on the book and the series.


  1. Logan Mountstuart reminds me of Forrest Gump, the way you describe him. This book sounds like it should one day be part of the cannon, if it isn’t already. I hadn’t heard of it, but will look forward to reading.

  2. Melissa: definitely, you should read it. In the book Logan moves to America for a while (post-second world war) until he has to remove himself hastily because of an affair with an underaged girl (unwittingly – he thinks she’s over 19). A bit like Martin Scorcese (the film director)… Boyd is a great writer

  3. Dear Sea,
    a) i gotta do better at my journaling…it tells nothing. Nothing like this book you recount…
    b) and thank you for this recommendation. It’s going on my Xmas list right now, which, not surprisingly, is composed of books. What else is there, of “things,” that one could want?

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