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Review-a-Day
Powells.com
Saturday, February 7th, 2004


 

Any Human Heart

by William Boyd

A review by Georgie Lewis

Allow me to issue a warning to readers whose expectations of Tobias Wolff's new novel Old School are rather high. Do not read it after reading Any Human Heart. This was the mistake I made, and poor Wolff suffers in comparison.

On the other hand, 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.

Using the backdrop of almost the entire twentieth century, various geographical locations — from Africa to Spain to Montevideo — and the odd real-life celebrity like Hemingway, Picasso, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (an especially brilliant portrait of these two!) Boyd has created a fascinating life for his narrator Logan Mountstuart. An English public school education followed by a stint at Oxford in the 1920s leads to a many-faceted career (gallery director, novelist, spy) and three marriages. Taking the form of a collection of journal entries (compiled in the later years of Logan's life by Logan himself), this fictional life is replete with detailed annotations, an author's preamble and an index. Logan's charming nature and ability to recount his days with humor and enthusiasm makes for one of the most addictive novels in a long time — not to mention one of the most moving and wise.

This review marks the release of Any Human Heart in paperback, and its length makes for a comfortable heft in your hand. The always high quality of Vintage paperbacks is fortunate because this is a book that you want to carry everywhere, lest you miss a moment of Logan's beguiling voice. However, if you can afford to splurge, it is a book I would recommend owning in hardcover, for its delights beg to be read over and again for many years to come.


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