Tag Archives: William Boyd

A brilliant take on diary writing – Any Human Heart – William Boyd

I picked this up after hearing from friends that the dramatisation of this novel was excellent.  After the disappointment of Stars and Bars I didn’t expect too much but I found myself totally engrossed within a couple of pages.

It was extremely interesting to read this novel straight after James Lees-Milne’s diaries as I feel sure that Boyd must have been inspired by them, despite finding no evidence whatsoever to support this theory. Both are extremely witty and have cameos of the most important society figures of the 1940s. In fact despite this being a work of fiction it would not surprise me if Lees-Milne had just popped up in the book..

This novel is the diary of the half English, half Uruguayan, Logan Mountstuart, and it follows his life from 1923 as a 17-year-old schoolboy to 1991 as a 85 year old man.  It is written in a style that has you almost believing this person actually existed, with details such as footnotes, a bibliography of Mountstuart’s supposed books and an index.    Along the way he studies at Oxford, is recruited as a spy by Ian Fleming, arrested as a prisoner of war, in the Bahamas playing golf with the  Duke and Duchess of Windsor, is an art dealer in New York hanging out with Pollock and finally after surviving on dog food and  becomes a member of the Socialist Patients Kollective with disastrous consequences.

The novel is an entertaining, funny and often poignant  read about life.  I was particularly moved by the reflections on points aging and an episode referring to the French Resistance. Some parts of the novel are more convincing than others but is on the whole extremely entertaining and clever.

As James Lees-Milne discusses there is an issue with  diary writing, ” Said more people should keep diaries, but the trouble was that the most unscrupulous diarists were too scrupulous when it came to putting personal truths on paper”   and Boyd argues that if  you know you are going to publish whilst alive this makes the diaries less honest, therefore Mountstuart’s´s diaries are supposed to have been published after his death.  In an interesting article Boyd writes about the nature of diary writing, he discusses the thesis that we are an anthology, a composite of many selves, and this novel reflects this. Indeed the book begins with a lovely quotation from Henry James, “Never say you know the last word about any human heart.” Boyd argues that whilst biography, memoir or autobiography are informed by  hindsight;

“Only the journal truly reflects, in its dogged chronology, the day-by-day, week-by-week progress of a life. Events have not yet acquired their retrospective gloss and significance; meetings and people, projects and schemes have not matured or developed.  The journal has to have the same random shape as a human life: governed by chance and the haphazard, by that aggregate of good luck and bad luck that everybody receives. Biography and autobiography dilute this inexorable fact, shaped as they are by the wisdom of hindsight and the manipulations of ego, and are literary forms that are, in many ways, as artificial and contrived as fiction….However parochial they are, however apparently insignificant the entries, the pages of a journal offer us, as readers, a chance to live the writer’s life as he or she lived it, after he or she has lived it.”

So, I don’t know if others agree but this is such an amazing novel that it is hard to believe that Logan Mountstuart never existed.

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William Boyd – Stars and Bars

Plot – English 40 something goes to America to change his life.  Ends up in the deep south (I think, Geography not my strong point for USA), and meets lots of bizarre people whilst trying to manage two women at the same time.  I suppose it is meant to be hilarious but doesn’t quite do it for me.  Seems a bit cliché -ridden and obvious.

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