Any Human Heart, William Boyd (10/10)

An easy read that packs a heavy punch of depth and character. Written as a series of intimate journal entries from the beginning to the end of Logan Mountstuart's life

Any Human Heart, William Boyd (10/10)

Rating: 10/10
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⛰ What It's About

This book tells the story of Logan Mountstuart, written as a series of intimate journal entries from the beginning to end of his life. Logan moves from Uruguay to London. And then to Paris, New York, Spain, Nigeria, Reykjavik, the Bahamas, and more! His career path is equally diverse - going from author to British spy to art dealer (and the list goes on). Inevitably, his romantic life takes a similar turn - and no details are spared! The book touches on politics, history, heartbreak, love, sex, alcohol, money... it's a fascinating book about a fascinating man, and I loved it!

🥰 Who Would Like It?

Any Human Heart is an easy read that packs a heavy punch of depth and character. While I loved it, I'm not sure I'd recommend it unless you've lived in the UK. Contrastingly, if you know your favourite vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape and grew up arguing with your nanny over whether to go to Waitrose or M&S, this is perhaps the perfect book for you.

🔍 How I Discovered It

My Uncle, Jasper, recommended it and lent me the paperback copy to read. And I also noticed a friend of mine, Michael Doswell, on Goodreads had recently rated it 5*.

🧠 Thoughts

I loved the diversity and depth of this book, and yet the simplicity with which it's written. Page turner! Take a look at the structure to get an idea...

  • The School Journal: Moves from Uruguay to UK. Dad dies. Grows up with two mates Ben and Peter. Plays pranks, tries to get girls, has bant.
  • The Oxford Journal: Fucks girls, gets drunk, gets 3rd-class degree from Oxford, has bant.
  • The First London Journal: Tries to become a writer. Tries to fuck girls. Gets married. Generally scraping by.
  • The Second World War Journal: Becomes a spy in the Bahamas. Fucks more girls. Gets more drunk. Gets captured as a spy. Wife thinks he's dead - runs off with some other prick.
  • The Post-War Journal: Returns to London. Wife killed while abroad. Very sad. Now he's on road trying to get cash and fuck girls.
  • The New York Journal: Life's not working out. No cash. Some books, but none are popping. Joins his mate in NYC to become an art dealer. Re-marries... fucks more girls, gets more drunk... then gets divorced
  • The African Journal: Becomes a lecturer in Nigeria
  • The Second London Journal: Returns to London. Broke as fuck. Miserable and failing. Joins a crazy right wing organisation and becomes a spy
  • The French Journal: Retires in a French village. Gets caught up in local controversy. Eventually dies from natural causes.

💬 Favourite Quotes

  • My birthday. No. 55. A card from Lionel and one from Gail. ‘Happy birthday, dear Logan, and don’t tell Mom you got this.’ I had a vodka and orange juice for breakfast to celebrate, then a couple of slugs of gin mid morning at the office. Liquid lunch at Bemelmans – two Negronis. Opened a bottle of champagne for the staff in the afternoon. Feeling sluggish so took a couple of Dexedrine. Two Martinis before going out to meet Naomi [the woman from the party]. Wine and grappa at Di Santo’s. Naomi had a headache so I dropped her at her apartment and didn’t stay. So I sit here with a big Scotch and soda, Poulenc on the gramophone, about to take a couple of Nembutal to send me off to the land of nod. Happy birthday, Logan.
  • Fifty-eight. Good God. I don’t think I’ll bother making another of these annual assessments – too depressing. Health: fair. No more teeth out. Haven’t had a Dexedrine for months. Drinking more under control. I ration myself to one cocktail at lunch but I probably still drink too much in the evening. Smoking: one pack a day if I don’t go out. Somewhat overweight, bit of a belly. Hair receding, greying. Still recognisably the LMS of old, unlike, say, Ben Leeping, now a fat old man, quite bald. Sex life: adequate. Naomi Mitchell [a curator at the Museum of Modern Art] my current girlfriend. Respectful, tolerant affair –could be more fun. We date once or twice a week when our schedules permit. Soul: a bit depressed. For some reason I’m worrying more about my future. I can stay on here in New York indefinitely, running Leeping Fils for as long as I want or am able. My salary is good, my apartment comfortable. My journalistic output and influence is gratifyingly high. I move in an interesting, sophisticated crowd; I travel to Europe whenever I wish; I own a small flat in London. So what are you complaining about? I think… I never really expected my life to be like this, somehow. What happened to those youthful dreams and ambitions? What happened to those vital, fascinating books I was going to write? I believe my generation was cursed by the war, that ‘great adventure’ (for those of us who survived unmaimed) right bang slap in the middle of our lives – our prime. It lasted so long and it split our lives in two – irrevocably ‘Before’ or ‘After’. When I think of myself in 1939 and then think of the man I had become in 1946, shattered by my awful tragedy… How could I carry on as if nothing had happened? Perhaps, under these circumstances, I haven’t done so badly after all. I’ve kept the LMS show on the road – and there is still time for Octet.
  • It happened last night. It had to. It was inevitable and wonderful. We’d both drunk a lot. I was standing in the kitchen and she came up behind me, put her arms around me and laid her head on my back. I thought my spine would snap. She put on a ‘hurt’ voice: ‘I’m gonna miss you, Logan.’ I turned round. You’d have to have been made of stone. You’d have to have been a eunuch to have restrained yourself in that situation. We kissed. We went into my bedroom and took our clothes off and made love. We smoked some of her pot. We made love again. We woke in the morning, made love, had breakfast. Now she’s gone to work and I’m writing this down. She said she’s been wanting to do it virtually since she’d arrived. She thought it would make her closer to Leo, in some way. Jesus. But she could see I wasn’t interested, and she respected that, happy to be friends. Then everything changed, she said, suddenly she was aware that I wanted her too and that it was only a matter of time. It was that switch-throwing moment in the kitchen. When it’s mutual, a man and a woman know, instinctively, wordlessly. They may do nothing about it, but the knowledge of that shared desire is out there in the world – as obvious as neon, saying: I want you, I want you, I want you.
  • David Gascoyne once told me that the only point of keeping a journal was to concentrate on the personal, the diurnal minutiae, and forget the great and significant events in the world at large. The newspapers cover all that, anyway, he said. We don’t want to know that ‘Hitler invaded Poland’ – we’re more curious about what you had for breakfast. Unless you happened to be there, of course, when Hitler invaded Poland and your breakfast was interrupted. It’s a point, I suppose, but I felt it would be worth picking up this journal again today if only because I’ve just walked out into my African garden and looked up at the moon. Looked up at the moon to marvel at the fact that there are two young American men walking around on its surface. Even Gascoyne would grant me that. It was a clear night and we had copious moonshine. The familiar old moon hung up there with a fuzzy corona around it, albescent in the soft black sky. I walked out into the garden away from the ring of light cast by my house and headed for the stand of casuarina pines at the end of the drive where the ground sloped up. A wind blew through the branches and set the huge trees whispering. I stamped my feet, suddenly remembering the risk of snakes and scorpions, and looked up, marvelling.