Any Human Heart
by William Boyd
“Those were the years when I was truly happy. Knowing that is both a blessing and a curse. It's good to acknowledge that you found true happiness in your life - in that sense your life has not been wasted. But to admit that you will never be happy like that again is hard.” ― William Boyd, Any Human Heart
William Boyd' s novel is presented in the form of journal entries; thus the subtitle, "The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart". The "journals" which the author has created, complete with footnotes and an index of all the people whom Logan meets (including Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, and countless others), brilliantly evoke a past era - or rather eras; for the journals span Logan Mountstuart's life from 1923, when he was a precocious schoolboy, through his early success as a biographer and novelist, his marriages, a war spent in Military Intelligence under Ian Fleming, life as an art dealer in New York, and poverty in London in his old age, until his death in France on October 5, 1991. The breadth of the story reminded me of Boyd's earlier novel, The New Confessions, which took the form of the autobiography of John James Todd, chronicling his uncanny and exhilarating life as one of the most unappreciated geniuses of the twentieth century
Much of the technical brilliance of this book results from the shifts in Logan's style as he, and the times through which he lives, ever so subtly evolve. Because of this it is sometimes difficult to appreciate Boyd's art as one ought, for one finds oneself almost reading the journals as genuine. The most dazzling vignettes, perhaps, are those of the self-regarding diaries of the young writers and aesthetes of the Twenties and Thirties, where Cyril Connolly (who appears as a character) is a likely influence. But if the early sections are the closest to parody, they are never mere caricature.
Boyd manages a rather touching, as well as extremely funny, portrait of a pretentious, arrogant, clever 17-year-old ("wrote a Spenserian ode on loss of faith"), who writes with flourishes of self-conscious pomposity ("we regained the purlieus of school without further incident"), is striving for superiority ("the Xmas tree is surely the saddest and most vulgar object invented by mankind"), yet does not know how to go about kissing his cousin Lucy, or deal with the discovery that his father does not have long to live.
Almost every section of the journals is nearly as good: Logan's moment with his baby son: "Lionel has croup. He seems a sickly baby. I sat him on my knee the other day and he stared at me with a baleful, sullen, and unknowing eye." is reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh. But the novel is not a simple criticism of many diarists of the period. Logan is capable of real and generous feeling, as well as of self-regarding depression; though to reveal the circumstances in which he finds (and loses) his truest love, as he moves from early critical acclaim to poverty and obscurity, would spoil an immensely readable story.
One remembers that this is a novel, indeed, by the way it holds your interest - which is quite a feat, because Boyd has also skillfully mimicked the "artless" and random qualities of the typical diary. As Logan remarks in his opening preamble, one should not expect coherence from journals: they merely "entrap that collection of selves that forms us"; unshaped by retrospection, their reality is "riotous and disorganized." Boyd's novel deliberately appears sprawling and inclusive; but it reads like a distillation of a real journal. He displays an unobtrusive artistry that transforms the potentially confusing "disorganized" diary-form into a novel which demonstrates the confusions and randomness of human life.