Tuesday, March 16, 2010

REVIEW: Any Human Heart, by William Boyd

Any Human Heart, by William Boyd. Published 2004 by Vintage. Literary Fiction.

I first heard about Any Human Heart from podcaster and book guru Michael Kindness in an episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast; he raved about it so much, and in a way that convinced me to read it, so I made it my first ebook purchase after I got my shiny Sony eReader. It was a good choice.

Any Human Heart is the diary of Logan Mountstuart, an Englishman born in South America who spends his life shuffling between England, America and Europe; he grows up, goes to school, gets married, has a child and gets married again. He works as a writer and has his share of success and failure, and his life takes a number of unexpected turns. In other words, he's an average man who nonetheless manages, Forrest Gump-like, to cross paths with many of the extraordinary men and women of the twentieth century and lives through almost all its ups and downs as well as his own.

Not the most exciting book out there in terms of plot, Any Human Heart is nonetheless very moving and compelling reading. It took me a little while to get into it; it picked up for me around the time of Mountstuart's first marriage but from there to the bittersweet ending Mountstuart's adventures kept me turning the pages. It was a little amazing watching the progress of his life and the turns it takes. He starts out as a relatively wealthy child in a somewhat conventional family but undergoes numerous shifts over the years along with his career, friendships and love affairs. His descent into poverty and illness in later years is scary and harrowing at times:
This is the first time in my life that I have been badly injured and seriously unwell; the first time I have had an operation and a general anaesthetic; the first time I have been in hospital. Those of use who have the luck to enjoy good health forget about this vast parallel universe of the unwell---their daily miseries, their banal ordeals. Only when you cross that fronteir into the world of ill health do you recognize its quiet, massive presence, its brooding permanence.

For awhile he's even eating dog food and rooming with a faded coquette with ills of her own; his life then takes a truly bizarre turn before ending very peacefully. I'm really glad I read Any Human Heart, a beautifully written character study I'd recommend most to readers of literary fiction. The writing is somewhat mannered but it's what this character would sound like and reflects Mountstuart's personality throughout all his travails. The supporting characters are vivid and well realized, particularly his friend Peter who serves as both a mirror and an alternative vision of his own life. It's a terrific book for the right reader.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


bermudaonion said...

I like the idea of this book, but I'm not sure I'd like the way it's executed. I get pretty impatient if a book's too slow.

Anonymous said...

This book sounds fascinating.

Zibilee said...

I love literary character studies, and your synopsis of this book really intrigues me, so I will be looking for it. I'm glad that you enjoyed it, even if it was a bit slow. Great review! Another book to add to the ever growing wish list!

Kathleen said...

Sounds intriguing, although the part about eating dog food kind of freaks me out!

Anonymous said...

A book on the terrains of humanity and life. Sounds like East of Eden. I have always wanted to read it. Mannered prose is just up my alley. :)