Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart

by William Boyd

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400031009
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/06/2004
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 239,617
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.01(d)

About the Author

William Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana, and attended University in Nice, Glasgow, and Oxford. He is the author of seven novels and eleven screenplays, and has been the recipient of several awards, including the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. Boyd lives with his wife in London and southwest France.

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Webmaster's Note: Footnotes have been inserted in appropriate places. In the actual text, they appear at the bottom of the page, as usual.

PREAMBLE TO THESE JOURNALS

"Yo, Logan," I wrote. "Yo, Logan Mountstuart, vivo en la Villa Flores, Avenida de Brasil, Montevideo, Uruguay, America del Sur, El Mundo, El Sistema Solar, El Universo." These were the first words I wrote—or to be more precise, this is the earliest record of my writing and the beginning of my writing life—words that were inscribed on the flyleaf of an indigo pocket diary for the year 1912 (which I still possess and whose pages are otherwise void). I was six years old. It intrigues me now* to reflect that my first written words were in a language not my own. My lost fluency in Spanish is probably my greatest regret about my otherwise perfectly happy childhood. The serviceable, error-dotted, grammatically unsophisticated Spanish that I speak today is the poorest of poor cousins to that instinctive colloquial jabber that spilled out of me for the first nine years of my life. Curious how these early linguistic abilities are so fragile, how unthinkingly and easily the brain lets them go. I was a bilingual child in the true sense, namely that the Spanish I spoke was indistinguishable from that of a Uruguayan.

* This preamble was probably written in 1987 (see p. 464).

Uruguay, my native land, is held as fleetingly in my head as the demotic Spanish I once unconsciously spoke. I retain an image of a wide brown river with trees clustered on the far bank as dense as broccoli florets. On this river, there is a narrow boat with a single person sitting in the stern. A small outboard motor scratches a dwindling, creamy wake on the turbid surface of the river as the boat moves downstream, the ripples of its progress causing the reeds at the water's edge to sway and nod and then grow still again as the boat passes on. Am I the person in the boat or am I the observer on the bank? Is this the view of a stretch of the Río Negro where I used to fish as a child? Or is it a vision of the individual soul's journey through time, a passage as transient as a boat's wake on flowing water? I can't claim it as my first reliable, datable memory, alas. That award goes to the sight of my tutor Roderick Poole's short and stubby circumcised penis, observed by my covertly curious eyes as he emerged naked from the Atlantic surf at Punta del Este, where we two had gone for a summer picnic one June day in 1914. I was eight years old and Roderick Poole had come to Montevideo from England to prepare me for St. Alfred's, my English prep school. Always swim naked when you can, Logan, was the advice he gave to me that day, and I have tried to adhere to it ever since. Anyway, Roderick was circumcised and I was not—which explains why I was paying such close attention, I suppose, but doesn't account for that particular day of all others being the one that sticks in my mind. Up until that precise moment the distant past of my earlier years is all vague swirling images, unfixed by time and place. I wish I could offer up something more telling, more poetic, something more thematically pertinent to the life that was to follow, but I can't—and I must be honest, here of all places.

The first pages of the lifelong, though intermittent, journal that I began to keep from the age of fifteen are missing. No great loss and, doubtless, like the avowals that begin almost all intimate journals, mine too would have commenced with the familiar determination to be wholly and unshakeably truthful. I would have sworn an oath to absolute candour and asserted my refusal to feel shame over any revelations which that candour would have encouraged. Why do we urge ourselves on in this way, us journal-keepers? Do we fear the constant threat of backslide in us, the urge to tinker and cover up? Are there aspects of our lives—things we do, feel and think—that we daren't confess, even to ourselves, even in the absolute privacy of our private record? Anyway, I'm sure I vowed to tell the truth, the whole truth, etc., etc., and I think these pages will bear me out in that endeavour. I have sometimes behaved well and I have sometimes behaved less than well—but I have resisted all attempts to present myself in a better light. There are no excisions designed to conceal errors of judgement ("The Japanese would never dare to attack the USA unprovoked"); no additions aimed at conferring an unearned sagacity ("I don't like the cut of that Herr Hitler's jib"); and no sly insertions to indicate canny prescience ("If only there were some way to harness safely the power in the atom")—for that is not the purpose of keeping a journal. We keep a journal to entrap that collection of selves that forms us, the individual human being. Think of our progress through time as one of those handy images that illustrate the Ascent of Man. You know the type: diagrams that begin with the shaggy ape and his ground-grazing knuckles, moving on through slowly straightening and depilating hominids, until we reach the clean-shaven Caucasian nudist proudly clutching the haft of his stone axe or spear. All the intervening orders assume a form of inevitable progression towards this brawny ideal. But our human lives aren't like that, and a true journal presents us with the more riotous and disorganized reality. The various stages of development are there, but they are jumbled up, counterposed and repeated randomly. The selves jostle for prominence in these pages: the mono-browed Neanderthal shoulders aside axe-wielding Homo sapiens; the neurasthenic intellectual trips up the bedaubed aborigine. It doesn't make sense; the logical, perceived progression never takes place. The true journal intime understands this fact and doesn't try to posit any order or hierarchy, doesn't try to judge or analyze: I am all these different people—all these different people are me.

Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary—it is the respective proportions of those two categories that make that life appear interesting or humdrum. I was born on the 27th February 1906 in Montevideo, Uruguay, the sea-girt city on its bay in that small country wedged between beefy Argentina and broiling Brazil. The "Switzerland of South America" it is sometimes dubbed and the land-locked associations of that comparison are apt, for, despite their country's long coastline—the republic is surrounded on three sides by water: the Atlantic, the vast estuary of the Río Plata and the broad Río Uruguay—the Uruguayans themselves are defiantly non-seafaring, a fact that has always warmed my heart, divided as it is between seadog Briton and landlubberly Uruguayan. My nature, true to its genetic heritage, is resolutely divided: I love the sea, but I love it viewed from a beach—my feet must always be planted on the strand.

My father's name was Francis Mountstuart (b. 1871). My mother's was Mercedes de Solís. She claimed to be descended from the first European, Juan Díaz de Solís, who set his foot on Uruguayan soil early in the sixteenth century. An unfortunate move on his part as he and most of his band of explorers were swiftly killed by Charrua Indians. No matter: my mother's preposterous boast is unverifiable.

My parents met because my mother, who spoke good English, became my father's secretary. My father was the general manager of Foley & Cardogin's Fresh Meat Company's processing plant in Uruguay. Foley's Finest Corned Beef is their most famous brand ("Foley's Finest": we have all, we British, eaten Foley's corned beef at some stage in our lives), but the bulk of their business was in the exporting of frozen beef carcasses to Europe from their huge frigorífico—a slaughterhouse and massive freezing unit combined—on the coast a few miles west of Montevideo. Foley's was not the biggest frigorífico in Uruguay at the turn of the twentieth century (that honour went to Lemco's at Fray Bentos), but it was very profitable—thanks to the diligence and perseverance of Francis Mountstuart. My father was thirty-three years old when he married my mother in 1904 (she was ten years younger than he) in Montevideo's pretty cathedral. Two years later I was born, their only child, named Logan Gonzago after my respective grandfathers (neither of whom was alive to meet his grandson).

I stir the memory soup in my head, hoping gobbets of Uruguay will float to the surface. I can see the frigorífico—a vast white factory with its stone jetty and towering chimney stack. I can hear the lowing of a thousand cattle waiting to be slaughtered, butchered, cleaned and frozen. But I didn't like the frigorífico and its chill aura of mass-produced death*—it made me frightened—I preferred our house and its dense and leafy grounds, a big villa on the chic and swanky Avenida de Brasil in Montevideo's new town. I remember a lemon tree in our garden and lobes of lemon-coloured light on a stone terrace. And there was a lead fountain set in a brick wall, with water spouting from a putto's mouth. A putto who looked, I now remember, just like the daughter of Jacob Pauser, the manager of the Foley estancia, 30,000 acres of the Banda Oriental, the purple-flowered flatlands where the beef herds roamed. What was this girl's name? Let's call her Esmerelda. Little Esmerelda Pauser—you can be my first love.

* 80,000 cattle a year were slaughtered at the Foley frigorifico and numberless sheep.

We spoke English in the house and from the age of six I went to a church school run by monoglot nuns on the Playa Trienta y Tres. I could read English but barely write by the time Roderick Poole arrived in 1913 (fresh from Oxford with a pass degree in Greats) to take my slipshod education by the scruff of its neck and make me fit for St. Alfred's School, Warwick, Warwickshire, England. I had no real concept of what England was like, my whole world was Montevideo and Uruguay. Lincoln, Shropshire, Hampshire, Romney Marsh and Southdown—breeds of sheep routinely slaughtered in my father's frigorífico were what my country meant to me. One more memory. After my lessons with Roderick we would go sea-bathing a Pocitos (where Roderick had to keep his bathing suit on) and would take the number 15 or 22 tram to reach the resort. Our treat was to order sorbets and have them served to us in the gardens of the Grand Hotel—gardens full of flowers: stock, lilac, orange, myrtle and mimosa—and then rattle home in the tender dusk to find my mother in the kitchen shouting at the cook, my father on the terrace smoking his quotidian cigar.

The Mountstuart family home was in Birmingham, where my father had been born and raised and where the head office of Foley & Cardogin's Fresh Meat Co. was to be found. In 1914 Foley's decided to concentrate on its meat-processing factories in Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia, and the Uruguayan business was sold to an Argentine firm, the Compañía Sansinena de Carnes Congeladas. My father was promoted to managing director and summoned home to Birmingham. We sailed for Liverpool on the SS Zenobia in the company of 2,000 frozen carcasses of Pollen Angus. The First World War began a week after we made landfall.

Did I weep when I looked back at my beautiful city beneath its small, fort-topped, conic hill and we left the yellow waters of the Río Plata behind? Probably not: I was sharing a cabin with Roderick Poole and he was teaching me to play gin rummy.

The city of Birmingham became my new home. I swapped the eucalyptus groves of Colón, the grass seas of the campo and the endless yellow waters of the Río Plata for a handsome, Victorian, redbrick villa in Edgbaston. My mother was delighted to be in Europe and revelled in her new role as the managing director's wife. I was sent as a boarder to St. Alfred's (where I briefly acquired the nickname "Dago"—I was a dark, dark-eyed boy) and at the age of thirteen I moved on to Abbeyhurst College (usually known as Abbey)—an eminent boys' boarding school, though not quite of the first rank—to complete my secondary education. It is here in 1923, when I was seventeen years old, that the first of my journals, and the story of my life, begins.

THE SCHOOL JOURNAL

1923
10 December 1923

We—the five Roman Catholics—were walking back from the bus stop up the drive to school, fresh from Mass, when Barrowsmith and four or five of his Neanderthals started chanting "Papist dogs" and "Fenian traitors" at us. Two of the junior sprats began weeping, so I stood up to Barrowsmith and said: "So tell us what religion you are, Barrowboy." "Church of England, of course, you dunce," he said. "Then count yourself very fortunate," said I, "that one religion at least will accept someone as physically repulsive as you are." Everyone laughed, even Barrowsmith's simian crew, and I shepherded my little flock together and we regained the purlieus of school without further incident.

Scabius and Leeping* declared I had done work of sub-magnificent standard and that the encounter and exchange were droll enough to deserve entry in our Livre d'Or. I argued that I should have a starred sub-magnificent because of the potential risk of physical injury from Barrowsmith and his lackeys, but Scabius and Leeping both voted against. The swine! Little Montague, one of the blubbers, was the witness, and Scabius and Leeping both handed over the honorarium (two cigarettes each for a sub-magnificent) with goodly cheer.

*Peter Scabius, LMS's closest friend from his schooldays, along with Benjamin Leeping.

When we brewed up after second prep I hatched a plan for the Martinmas term. It was no good, I said, just waiting for the various categories of magnificents to happen—we had to initiate them ourselves. I proposed that we should each be presented with a challenge: that two of us, in turn, should think up a task for the third and that the endeavour would be documented (and witnessed as far as possible) in the Livre d'Or. Only in this way, I averred, could the ghastly rigours of next term be survived, and, after that, we were on the home stretch: summer term was always more agreeable and could take care of itself. There were the School Certificate and scholarship exams and then we'd be free—and of course we hoped Oxford would be waiting (for me and Scabius, at least—Leeping said he had no intention of wasting three years—of what was bound to be a short life—at university). Scabius suggested the raising of a fund to privately print and publish a deluxe limited edition of the Livre d'Or if only to preserve the iniquities of Abbey for all time. "Or as a terrible warning for our offspring," added Leeping. This was unanimously agreed and we each deposited one penny into the new "publishing fund," Leeping already pondering weight and weave of paper types, embossed leather binding and the like.*

In the dormitory that night I pleasured myself with delectable visions of Lucy. No. 127 of the term.

* As far as is known, the Livre d'Or was never printed. No trace of the manuscript survives.

Table of Contents

Preamble to These Journals3
The School Journal9
The Oxford Journal59
The First London Journal103
The Second World War Journal207
The Post-War Journal273
The New York Journal297
The African Journal371
The Second London Journal393
The French Journal449
Afterword483
Index487

Reading Group Guide

“Its pleasures are countless. . . . Supremely entertaining.” —The Washington Post Book World

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Any Human Heart, the latest novel from the author of Armadillo, The Blue Afternoon, and Brazzaville Beach. William Boyd, who has been called “a master storyteller” (Chicago Tribune) and “one of the most skillful and appealing writers at work today” (The Atlantic Monthly), now gives us his most entertaining, sly and compelling novel to date, a novel that evokes the tumult, events and iconic faces of our time, as it tells the story of Logan Mountstuart—writer, lover, and man of the world—through his intimate journals.

1. Is Logan a likeable and engaging character? If so, what are the qualities that make him so? Is he a risk-taker? Is he egotistical? What qualities does he bring to his friendships? How does he change as he grows older?

2. What is the purpose of the “challenges” that Peter, Ben and Logan impose upon each other in their last year at Abbey? How is Logan’s approach to his challenge indicative of his approach to life? Why is Logan so unhappy at Oxford, and why does he receive only a third-class degree?

3. Logan’s father is the manager of a corned-beef factory; his Uruguayan mother was his father’s secretary but claims descent from the Spaniard who first entered Uruguay in the sixteenth century. What are Logan’s assumptions about his own class status while at Abbey, at Oxford, and in his first marriage to the daughter of an Earl? Is he a snob or just the opposite? To what degree is Logan’s life determined by the solid bourgeois values his father instills in him?

4. Is Logan’s early literary success surprising? Is it a matter of luck, or is it driven by his intelligence and his confidence in his own abilities? At the beginning of 1929 he writes “I sense my life as a writer—my writer’s life, my real life—has truly begun” [p. 113]. How does this idea resonate throughout the book? Why does Logan choose to have his tombstone commemorate him, simply, as a writer? Is his autobiography his most significant work?

5. What role does sexuality play in Logan’s life, and to what extent is his erotic life an indicator of the level of his vitality?

6. Throughout the novel, various historical figures pass through Logan’s life—Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Ian Fleming, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, etc. [see index]. What is the effect of these moments? How do these famous people come across in ‘real life’?

7. Logan’s chance meeting with Freya is described in urgent, bewildered terms: “it terrifies me, the fragility of these moments in our lives. If I hadn’t lost my passport. If her father hadn’t crashed the car. . . . If she hadn’t gone to the consulate at that precise hour. . . . The view ahead is empty and void: only the view backward shows you how utterly random and chance-driven these vital connections are” [p. 155]. The loss of Freya and Stella is similarly chance-driven. How is Logan changed by the deaths of Freya and Stella?

8. During the Spanish Civil War, Logan and his friend Faustino discuss what is most important to them. To Faustino’s “love of life, love of humanity,” Logan adds “love of beauty” [p. 185]. How important is this friendship to Logan? What is the significance in Logan’s life of the Miro paintings Logan “inherits” from Faustino?

9. What happens on Logan’s mission in Switzerland? Why is he captured? Was the whole mission, and Logan’s long imprisonment, a set-up? If so, who set it up and why? What does Boyd want his readers to understand about this crucial and tragic episode in Logan’s life, and why doesn’t he explain exactly how and why it came about? Does Logan ever exact revenge on those he suspects are responsible?

10. How does Boyd use Any Human Heart to comment on the relationship between an individual life and the historical moments through which that individual lives? What, if anything, is the relationship between the two? How does Logan react to, or interact with, the moments that become “history”? Is history a critical part of Logan’s life, or simply its backdrop?

11. How reliable is Logan as the narrator of his own story? Are there moments when the reader distrusts the veracity of Logan’s account? Or, on the contrary, does the journal form project a sense of immediacy and truthfulness?

12. What is comical, or touching, about the phase of life Logan calls his “dog-food” period [see pp. 416-18]? How does he adapt to poverty and obscurity, given the wealth, success, and fame of his youth?

13. Boyd’s book The New Confessions is a fictional autobiography of a character whose life spanned much of the twentieth century; Any Human Heart takes up, with a very different character, a similar fictional task. If you have read The New Confessions how do the books differ? What do both books express about the process of telling a life? What is it about fictional autobiography that might interest a writer so much?

14. What is the reason for the dwindling of Logan’s creative life? How humiliating is it when his literary agent points out that his books haven’t made money since the Second World War? Why does he destroy the draft of Octet before his death? Given that his friend Peter Scabius is meant to be a sort of foil to Logan in his writing career, what does the novel have to say about the vocation of writing?

15. What is the effect of “The French Journal”? What does Logan mean when he says “the pleasures of my life are simple—simple, inexpensive and democratic” [p. 476]? What are Logan’s realizations in his old age? What has changed about Logan’s observant eye and his state of mind? Does this section provide what could be seen as a happy ending to Logan’s life?

16. What illusion is created by the novel’s footnotes and index? The notes indicate an editor—who might this editor have been, and why doesn’t Boyd complete the illusion by providing the editor’s name?

17. Late in his life Logan’s thoughts about Freya and Stella become a meditation on luck: “Freya and Stella. That was my good luck. . . . That’s all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience. . . . There’s nothing you can do about it: nobody shares it out, allocates it to this one or that, it just happens. We must quietly suffer the laws of man’s condition, as Montaigne says” [p. 458]. To what degree is this conclusion sensible, even profound, in its stoic resignation?

18. The book’s title, as the epigraph points out, comes from novelist Henry James: “Never say you know the last word about any human heart.” Does Boyd want his readers to assume that despite the private revelations of the diary form, we still cannot know the last word about Logan Mountstuart? Does the human heart refute even self-authored attempts at revealing a complete truth?

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Any Human Heart 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
llamamia More than 1 year ago
As an avid reader, I cannot believe that I haven't heard of Boyd before. Interesting enough,I discovered him through another author, Tom Rachman (The Imperfectionists) who recommended him. Any Human Heart is a very ambitious work that combines historic characters (& actual events) with a fictitious minor writer of the twentieth century. In fact, Logan Mountstuart, the protagonist, seemed so real, I spent time trying to establish if he actually did exist. I also found the title very thought provoking & again did research on the quote from Henry James, hoping to discover the true meaning. Any author who can stimulate the mind & challenge his audience to this extent is well worth pursuing. I look forward to reading some of his earlier works as well as his very recent novel, "Ordinary Thunderstorms.
Morning-Star More than 1 year ago
Logan Mountstuart reveals a heavy load of sagacious episodic data of personal life. From a young, arrogant, driven boy to a man of heart, searching for simplistic beauty, Logan finds himself intoxicated with perverseness, lasting friendships, tragedy, and demoralization. Heavily encapsulated in a European tour, other historical and geographical surprises await. Seeking deeper inside this semi-troubled, lonely man, there emerges one of us; a being yearning for love. Countless names and characters are introduced throughout his journal, with only a select few that carries through with him till the end. Any Human Heart exposes the human being that we all are; wanting to love and be loved. We just act upon and seek upon in our own ways. Great character, very enjoyable book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At the time I picked up this book at the store, I was going through what I call a 'reading slump.' I could not find a book that would hold my attantion beyond the first chapter. This book definitely changed that around. I was instantly attached to Logan Mounstuart and his journey through the twentieth century. It was sometimes hard to believe that he is a fictional character! I had never heard of this author before, but I am definitely going to pick up another one of his books soon.
sas on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Wonderful, wise and moving.
Davidgnp on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Somewhat disappointed by this one after enjoying 'An Ice Cream War' and 'Brazzaville Beach' from the same author. This is a sprawling novel that extends over 70 years, a fictional memoir in which we are constantly encountering famous real-life characters, from Picasso to Jackson Pollock, Ian Fleming (in his role as spy-recruiter) to Ernest Hemingway. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor are cast in a very shady light. It all sounds good fun, doesn't it, and there is fun to be had to a degree, and some sharp passages of writing, even occasionally superb; but there was no central narrative thread, which made the book lumpy and episodic. The glue was the central character Logan Mountstuart, who we follow from public school to the grave and all shades in between, from wealth to poverty, from hedonism to cynicism, from shallow romps to deep regrets. My problem was that I didn't care enough about him to sustain me through nearly 500 pages, and I was glad when I got to the end, not in that satisying way you reach the destination with a friend you have enjoyed being with, but when you have been stuck with someone who turned out to be a tad tedious halfway through the journey. Still, I have high hopes for my next travelling companion, whoever that might be.
CandyNY More than 1 year ago
Saw this as a miniseries on Masterpiece Classics and loved it. It is the fictional journals of an English writer and his life in the 20th century. I have enjoyed the rich details and beautiful language as much as the well developed plot. Some might find this to be too detailed but I'm drawn to the everyday musings as he makes his way through life, good decisions and bad, good relationships and bad, happiness and losses. Boyd paints a picture of upper class English life that is fascinating and feels true.Can't wait to read my way through Boyd's other novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pretty good read. Lots of name dropping, but plausible given the milieu. I enjoyed the writing style, and it seemed to fit the premise of a writer keeping a journal. The narrative set pieces were generally compelling, but I was annoyed by the gaps being glossed over. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not care for this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cant see any if my posts
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I watched the movie first, and it was interesting to compare
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually saw the film adaptation on PBS before I read the book. Usually ruins it, didn't. An incredibly facinating character study. The auther builds a character with a full measure of flaws and foibles as he stumbles through just about every major event of the 20th century. Almost too fantastic to be real but a little Forrest Gumpish. We end up believing because it's so believable. Reads, at times, like a bad horror movie as we watch him stumble, alone, into the darkened room knowing nothing good will come of that, and nothing does. He's just a little too clever to feel sorry for but a little innocent to hate...pretty much like people. You really should read this book. If you don't want to wait for it at the library and have a nook, I'll lend it to you.
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Michele Gardner More than 1 year ago
one of the best books I have ever read. I kept checking the cover to make sure it was fiction because I swore it was a biographhy it seemed so real. highly recommended.