Discussion location: Utopia bar 

Chosen by: Me (Ameesha)

Reason for choice: My aunt was the production designer for the BBC adaptation of Any Human Heart and Boyd’s Restless and sent me the books for Christmas.

Review:

Any Human Heart: The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart span not only the life of the protagonist (1906 – 1991), but also offer a wide historical and literary reference guide to the 20th Century.  Readers follow Logan through his inspired youth at Oxford University to his career in literature, through a few marriages, numerous women, several wars, a period as an art dealer in New York, and his final decline into anonymity and poverty.  Due to the intensely personal narrative of the journals, readers could be forgiven for not realising that Logan Mountstuart is an entirely fictional character carefully crafted by Boyd after 30 months of research and 18 months of writing.

Boyd’s impressive dedication to the “significantly random” nature of the journals makes them both believable and fantastical.  The adjustment in tone as Logan matures enhances the credibility of the narration, while the New York period becomes a little too improbable and off-track. While the novel offers an interesting and amusingly honest commentary on famous writers and artists, some of the group found the ‘name dropping’ irritating. [On a side note to publishers, including the footnotes at the bottom of the page is immensely preferable to searching for them at the back of the book.]

Despite the New York blip, the novel is startlingly well written with some amusing moments (the suicidal manic rugby playing days), some evocative moments (Lottie visiting the apartment), some tragic parts (dog food), and a poignant final image.  The beginning and end of the novel are particularly enjoyable, though like any human life there are less interesting parts, and realistically, Logan’s life is up and down. As Logan, or Boyd, insightfully puts it, life is “the aggregate of all the good and bad luck you experience”.

Logan himself is at times unlikable, morally vacuous, and lost; at times tragic, the effect of a momentous event that had an undeniably huge impact on him, and from which he never really recovered.  Throughout, he was sadly lacking a true friend, and as he used the journals as a sort of friend, he received no honest feedback on his behaviour. Indeed, his ‘womanising’ was perhaps a response to this loneliness, meandering through life, bouncing off things, yet failing to be truly happy. Like any body, Logan does good things and bad, and despite a life that was mostly pervaded by egocentricity, his relationship with Gloria at the end of the novel is ultimately redeeming.

Indeed, the novel’s title is perfectly indicative of its contents.  Logan’s heart could be any human heart, his life could be any life, and “Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary”.

Overall rating: 7/10

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