Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of Armadillo
and The Blue Afternoon
("pitch-perfect" New York Times
), a new novel that invokes the tumult, events, and iconic faces of our time as it tells the story of Logan Mountstuart writer; spy, and man of the world through his intimate journals.
Here is the "riotous and disorganized reality" of Mountstuart's 85 years in all their extraordinary, tragic, and humorous aspects. The journals begin with his boyhood in Montevideo, Uruguay; then move to Oxford in the 1920s and the publication of his first book; then on to Paris (where he meets Joyce, Picasso, Hemingway, et al.) and to Spain where he covers the civil wan World War II we see him as an agent for Naval Intelligence becoming embroiled in a murder scandal that involves the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The postwar years bring him to New York as an art dealer in the world of 1950s abstract expressionism, to West Africa, to London (where he has a run-in with the Baader-Meinhof Gang) and, finally, to France where, in his old age, he acquires a measure of hard-won serenity.
An ambitious and richly conceived novel that summons up the heroics and follies of 20th-century life.
"Boyd has named his book Any Human Heart
, but Mountstuart is not exactly Everyman: he is far more generous, forgiving, and free than most of us. He is also more amusing, and more amused by life; he makes an extremely attractive central character. Boyd is one of the most skillful and appealing writers at work today, endowed with both a great natural vitality and an increasingly sophisticated humanism." Brooke Allen, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic review
"A work of astonishing ventriloquistic virtuosity....A brilliant evocation of a past era....One finds oneself almost reading the journals as genuine...which is quite a feat, because Boyd has skillfully mimicked the artless and random qualities of every diary." Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph
"A book full of delights....No one is better than William Boyd at drawing the reader into [a] tale from the very first sentence." Erica Wagner, The Times
"Astounding....The most sincere measure of praise one can attach to William Boyd's new novel is that it ranks alongside The New Confessions as one of his great achievements....It also resembles the earlier book in its ambition and spirit, being an account of tumultuous tragicomic life that lasts from one end of the twentieth century to the other. To pull off that trick once is considerable: to do it twice is astounding." Anthony Quinn, The Mail on Sunday
"Compelling....An addictively enjoyable read as well as a testament to the endurance of the human heart." Geordie Grieg, Literary Review
"His humor and candor make him an agreeable companion....Along with the comedy, Boyd's empathy is everywhere evident, whether in describing his hero's soul-crushing loss of a family or the mundane melancholy of passport renewal." Village Voice
"I'll happily raise your expectations roof-high for Boyd's magnificent novel. In fact, if comparisons are to be made, I predict that fans of Brideshead Revisited
's sparkling combination of wit and pathos will be spectacularly rewarded. The book is glorious." Georgie Lewis, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review
The author of "Armadillo, The Blue Afternoon" and "Brazzaville Beach" now pens his most entertaining, sly and compelling novel to date, a novel that evokes the tumult, events and iconic faces of our time, as it tells the story of Logan Mountstuart--writer, lover and man of the world--through his intimate journals.
William Boyds masterful new novel tells, in a series of intimate journals, the story of Logan Mountstuart—writer, lover, art dealer, spy—as he makes his often precarious way through the twentieth century.
About the Author
William Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana, and attended university in Nice, Glasgow and Oxford. He is the author of seven novels and eleven screenplays and has been the recipient of several awards, including the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. William Boyd lives with his wife in London and southwest France.
William Boyd’s Armadillo, The Blue Afternoon, The Destiny of Nathalie X, An Ice-Cream War, The New Confessions, On the Yankee Station and Stars and Bars are available in Vintage paperback.
Reading Group Guide
1. Is Logan a likeable and engaging character? If so, what are the qualities that make him so? Is he a risk-taker? Is he egotistical? What qualities does he bring to his friendships? How does he change as he grows older?
2. What is the purpose of the “challenges” that Peter, Ben and Logan impose upon each other in their last year at Abbey? How is Logans approach to his challenge indicative of his approach to life? Why is Logan so unhappy at Oxford, and why does he receive only a third-class degree?
3. Logans father is the manager of a corned-beef factory; his Uruguayan mother was his fathers secretary but claims descent from the Spaniard who first entered Uruguay in the sixteenth century. What are Logans assumptions about his own class status while at Abbey, at Oxford, and in his first marriage to the daughter of an Earl? Is he a snob or just the opposite? To what degree is Logans life determined by the solid bourgeois values his father instills in him?
4. Is Logans early literary success surprising? Is it a matter of luck, or is it driven by his intelligence and his confidence in his own abilities? At the beginning of 1929 he writes “I sense my life as a writer—my writers life, my real life—has truly begun” [p. 113]. How does this idea resonate throughout the book? Why does Logan choose to have his tombstone commemorate him, simply, as a writer? Is his autobiography his most significant work?
5. What role does sexuality play in Logans life, and to what extent is his erotic life an indicator of the level of his vitality?
6. Throughout the novel, various historical figures pass through Logans life—Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Ian Fleming, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, etc. [see index]. What is the effect of these moments? How do these famous people come across in ‘real life?
7. Logans chance meeting with Freya is described in urgent, bewildered terms: “it terrifies me, the fragility of these moments in our lives. If I hadnt lost my passport. If her father hadnt crashed the car. . . . If she hadnt gone to the consulate at that precise hour. . . . The view ahead is empty and void: only the view backward shows you how utterly random and chance-driven these vital connections are” [p. 155]. The loss of Freya and Stella is similarly chance-driven. How is Logan changed by the deaths of Freya and Stella?
8. During the Spanish Civil War, Logan and his friend Faustino discuss what is most important to them. To Faustinos “love of life, love of humanity,” Logan adds “love of beauty” [p. 185]. How important is this friendship to Logan? What is the significance in Logans life of the Miro paintings Logan “inherits” from Faustino?
9. What happens on Logans mission in Switzerland? Why is he captured? Was the whole mission, and Logans long imprisonment, a set-up? If so, who set it up and why? What does Boyd want his readers to understand about this crucial and tragic episode in Logans life, and why doesnt he explain exactly how and why it came about? Does Logan ever exact revenge on those he suspects are responsible?
10. How does Boyd use Any Human Heart to comment on the relationship between an individual life and the historical moments through which that individual lives? What, if anything, is the relationship between the two? How does Logan react to, or interact with, the moments that become “history”? Is history a critical part of Logans life, or simply its backdrop?
11. How reliable is Logan as the narrator of his own story? Are there moments when the reader distrusts the veracity of Logans account? Or, on the contrary, does the journal form project a sense of immediacy and truthfulness?
12. What is comical, or touching, about the phase of life Logan calls his “dog-food” period [see pp. 416-18]? How does he adapt to poverty and obscurity, given the wealth, success, and fame of his youth?
13. Boyds book The New Confessions is a fictional autobiography of a character whose life spanned much of the twentieth century; Any Human Heart takes up, with a very different character, a similar fictional task. If you have read The New Confessions how do the books differ? What do both books express about the process of telling a life? What is it about fictional autobiography that might interest a writer so much?
14. What is the reason for the dwindling of Logans creative life? How humiliating is it when his literary agent points out that his books havent made money since the Second World War? Why does he destroy the draft of Octet before his death? Given that his friend Peter Scabius is meant to be a sort of foil to Logan in his writing career, what does the novel have to say about the vocation of writing?
15. What is the effect of “The French Journal”? What does Logan mean when he says “the pleasures of my life are simple—simple, inexpensive and democratic” [p. 476]? What are Logans realizations in his old age? What has changed about Logans observant eye and his state of mind? Does this section provide what could be seen as a happy ending to Logans life?
16. What illusion is created by the novels footnotes and index? The notes indicate an editor—who might this editor have been, and why doesnt Boyd complete the illusion by providing the editors name?
17. Late in his life Logans thoughts about Freya and Stella become a meditation on luck: “Freya and Stella. That was my good luck. . . . Thats all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience. . . . Theres 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 mans condition, as Montaigne says” [p. 458]. To what degree is this conclusion sensible, even profound, in its stoic resignation?
18. The books title, as the epigraph points out, comes from novelist Henry James: “Never say you know the last word about any human heart.” Does Boyd want his readers to assume that despite the private revelations of the diary form, we still cannot know the last word about Logan Mountstuart? Does the human heart refute even self-authored attempts at revealing a complete truth?
“Its pleasures are countless. . . . Supremely entertaining.” —The Washington Post Book World
The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your groups reading of Any Human Heart, the latest novel from the author of Armadillo, The Blue Afternoon, and Brazzaville Beach. William Boyd, who has been called “a master storyteller” (Chicago Tribune) and “one of the most skillful and appealing writers at work today” (The Atlantic Monthly), now gives us his most entertaining, sly and compelling novel to date, a novel that evokes the tumult, events and iconic faces of our time, as it tells the story of Logan Mountstuart—writer, lover, and man of the world—through his intimate journals.