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Any Human Heart

by William Boyd

William Boyd has created a most plausible character. Logan Mountstuart is always likeable and ridiculously optimistic even through huge adversity. He shines through as a man of great resourcefulness, energy and spirit, to whom extraordinary things just keep on happening. His long life never loses pace and he refuses to give up what is important to him, but like a chameleon, adjusts to new circumstances. Obviously he is flawed and probably he is selfish and difficult to live with, but a diary is a view into one person's mind and by its nature is a selfish form. Probably too he is not very circumspect and not drawn to introspection and it would be fascinating to read what his family, friends and lovers actually felt about him...but this is going too far, and particularly after reading the fascinating Afterword and Index one must remember that this is actually fiction!

Mountstuart matures throughout the journal, which covers his entire life beginning with a loving and eccentric Catholic childhood, through brutal schooldays, Oxford where he was not distinguished academically, to a career as a writer in pre-War London and Paris. Mountstuart lives the life of a young bohemian, receiving huge acclaim and seems set fair on a course to success. However, things are rarely straightforward for him and his life takes a series of dramatic turns. The reader is rapidly drawn into his world and changing times, via these snapshot pictures of a moment in time. The format sounds rather disjointed, but actually works very well, and means that a huge panorama of time and place can be tackled which is anchored through a strong personal voice. As a result we intimately share in Mountstuart's life, a story marked by great change and his own personal response to it. The reader cannot help but assess his success, and one's own, (if in his position) on this roller-coaster of fortune, travel, love and family life with such heartbreaking episodes of loss that we wonder how he can survive such blows to the heart.

Somehow he does steer through this complicated life and he manages to grow old. Mountstuart matures into a splendid old man, more dignified and slightly resigned to his ageing body, but still thirsty for experience, always on a journey and never beaten. In fact he gets more daring and reckless as he gets older, at one point embarking on a career as an international terrorist. There are many unforgettable episodes such as the poverty - stricken diet of dog food, which he cheerfully consumes and as ever, a wonderful social life, punctuated with bouts of great drunkenness with ancient friends. The last phase of his life is portrayed sensitively and touchingly, particularly in view of our own elderly parents and we all felt it was a good end to a very human life.

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