That's all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience.

So says Logan Mountstuart, and indeed he has had his fair share of both...

William Boyd, with his passion for exploring real life and its myriad emotions, has found the perfect format for his story in Any Human Heart. He engages the reader from page one with his masterful use of 'the journal'. Who could fail to feel part of his character's life after delving deep into Logan's innermost and uncensored thoughts, while he navigates his colourful 20th century life?

'The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart' afford the reader the luxury of experiencing events on a truly personal level. That is why, according to the author, many fans cite Any Human Heart as their favourite Boyd novel – and why they feel the loss of a friend at its end.

Boyd said in one interview: "I think Logan becomes a 'friend' precisely because you hear his intimate voice in your ear – because you're reading his personal journal, hearing his confessions." Logan makes mistakes; he makes good decisions and foolish decisions, but this is exactly what enriches the fabric of the story. Every up and down is recorded. Nothing is glossed over or left out for piety's sake. The benefits of hindsight are occasionally harvested in footnotes and in later entries, but each experience is documented as it would have happened at the time. The reader identifies all the more with LMS precisely because of this emotional honesty.

Almost an entire century is depicted within the book. There is the hopeful 1920s writer's life, there is WW2 and espionage, a murder mystery, wining and dining in high style, royalty, famous writers and painters, and iconic locations. The unique appeal of Any Human Heart is our authentic guide to the century. He meets and mingles with many well known names, cleverly mixing the real with the fictional.

Some readers may become irritated in trying to establish what is real and what is not. William Boyd creates fictional book titles, juxtaposed with real ones; real paintings and artwork are placed alongside fabricated works. Part of the book's allure, or a source of frustration? Each reader must decide for themselves.

For the Guardian, "the characterisation of these public figures is superb."  Any Human Heart "is actually a highly ordered and controlled encounter with that classic French literary form, the journal intime."

Any Human Heart is perhaps all the more enthralling because it really could be a true story. The Duke of Windsor's potential involvement with the murder of Sir Harry Oakes is very believable – Boyd's research into the case was so in-depth that he believes he really has cracked the case. He not only creates fiction, he goes one step further and asks key questions about history.

William Boyd's own travels are brilliantly reflected in the book. His time spent researching locations is evident, and each is brought to life in perfect detail, making his story all the more believable. The descriptions are specific, evocative, incorporating detail one could only know from having been there.

A kaleidoscope of human emotions seeps through the novel, saturating it with sadness, with joy, elation, anger, hurt and happiness. Again, these are made all the more mesmerising through the medium of the journal.

October.  Peregrine (one of my woodlice) has died. Found him in the morning curled in a tight ball and when I tried to unwind him he broke in half.

Lines like this illustrate beautifully Boyd's attention to detail. There is both poignancy and humour here: LMS's despair in this single moment may seem trivial, but here and now, to him, it is of the utmost importance. Yet the idea of a grown man grappling with his 'pet' woodlouse and making it break in two is, well, rather funny.

Fundamentally, LMS appeals to us. These are journals we are reading, hence the focus on the self. And whilst on occasion LMS can seem out of order, we forgive him, so much are we wrapped up in his life. We know him.

 

Other Reviews

The Observer review

Penguin Readers review

'MostlyFiction' review