Any Human Heart
by William Boyd
Any Human Heart was very interesting. I often have a very hard time enjoying a book when I dislike the protagonist. When I met Logan Mountstuart, he was not a very likable person. He was pompous, vain, rude, lazy, and insubordinate. Basically, he was most teenagers I’ve known. At first I kept reading for a) the beautiful prose and b) the side characters.
As I continued, though, I started to have an appreciation for Logan. He did not become a lovable character but he did become an interesting one. He remains selfish, vain, and rude, but becomes a surprisingly hard working writer and art critic. He is charming in his own way, which allows him to be in a number of relationships to a greater or lesser degree of success. He remains very self-satisfied, but little happens to challenge that assumption so I can nearly forgive him that. All in all, Logan’s character is very easy to penetrate at first but becomes more complex as the story evolves. Since this book is written as though it were a series or personal journals, this is a smart move. It helps Logan develop as a character as he grows up.
Any Human Heart could easily be seen as a case study in the selfishness of the human condition. Logan truly does not think about other people or how his actions will affect their lives. It’s not that he doesn’t think they are people; he’s not a sociopath. It just truly doesn’t occur to him that consequences are a thing. When they do happen, he seems shocked or surprised, and blames others for the discomfort he finds himself in. In many ways, Logan lives his entire life as a child: continually wanting his needs met without having to truly work for it.
And with all this, he is not the worst character in this book by a long shot. Logan lies and cheats when it’s convenient. One or two of his colleagues do so apparently out of principle. Negative principles, sure, but still the mandates by which they live. Look out for number one is a key philosophy, but so is the inevitable conclusion that it won’t make one happy.
As Logan’s life continues he loses some of the hubris that he started with. By the end of the book, I truly wished him well (though I still wouldn’t want to be friends with him). His life took so many random twists and turns it was quite ridiculous. He was friends with Hemingway, became a spy, reported on the Spanish Civil War, managed an art gallery, and lived all over the globe. In short, it felt like an actual autobiography rather than a work of fiction. It’s too absurd to be made up.
I would definitely suggest this book with a couple of caveats. There is a fair amount of alcoholism, adultery, cursing and general awful behavior in this book. If you are sensitive to this, I would steer clear. On the other hand, it is wonderfully written and surprisingly thoughtful; well worth the read for those who put the time in.