Best-selling author William Boyd—the novelist who has been called a “master storyteller” (Chicago Tribune) and “a gutsy writer who is good company to keep” (Time)—here gives us his most entertaining, sly, and compelling novel to date. The novel 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. It covers the “riotous and disorganized reality” of Mountstuart’s 85 years in all their extraordinary, tragic, and humorous aspects.
The journals begin with his boyhood in Montevideo, Uruguay, then move to Oxford in the 1920s and the publication of his first book, then on to Paris where he meets Joyce, Picasso, Hemingway, et al., and to Spain, where he covers the civil war. During World War II, we see him as an agent for naval intelligence, becoming embroiled in a murder scandal that involves the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The postwar years bring him to New York as an art dealer in the world of 1950s abstract expressionism, then on to West Africa, to London where he has a run-in with the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and, finally, to France where, in his old age, he acquires a measure of hard-won serenity.
This is a moving, ambitious, and richly conceived novel that summons up the heroics and follies of 20th-century life.
©2002 William Boyd (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Boyd does such a nimble job of ventriloquism in the book’s opening sections that we find ourselves forgetting that Mountstuart is a fictional character.” (New York Times)
Narrative makes the world go round.
I'm tempted to call this novel "Forrest Gump Dances to the Music of Time" - but that would trivialize it. It's a more contemporary Evelyn Waugh/Anthony Powell -esque "20th century as lived through an (English) individual." The protagonist even meets Powell and Waugh in the course of his travels around and about the 20th century. It's not as grand as Powell, but then much of Powell dances over my head.
Our hero is Forrest Gump-like in that he causually crosses paths with an incredible number of historical figures -- but the story is so well spun, this never seems incredible when you're inside it. Of course, our hero is a literary figure, much like Powell's and Waugh's protagonists, but he's more accessible, and where Waugh would accentuate the satire and Powell make the prose dance, Boyd leans toward story and character and oblique historical backdrop.
You'll either love the novel or hate it. If the thought of "listening in" on a journal that skips a year here and there to land our Brit on the fringe of a revolution or other pivotal event turns you off, with discursions for how he's feeling about his current love and decor, skip it. I listened to it almost nonstop for two evenings and loved it.
This story and it's telling traverses the banalities of life from the lovingly familiar and mundane to the sweet ache when life offers splurges of intense emotion. I wonder if this is written for those who have covered most of their life's ground. The story offers favorite moments of characterization. This book engaged me.
I admire William Boyd's talent for writing - for telling. A favorite author.
The story of Logan Mountstuart's life is told through his diary entries, taking him, and us, through the 20th century, bumping into major and minor writers, artists and historical personalities and touching on events like the spanish revolution, WW2, the Biafra War and a Baader-Meinhof plot. We get insider descriptions of milieus such as the Bloomsbury group, the Paris literati of the 20's and 30's, the music and arts scene in New York in 50's and 60's New York, and an assortment of spies, tax-refugees and expat royals in the Caribbean. Critics have pointed out that the plot is just a bi too contrived - routinely landing Mountstuart at the centre (or at least the fringes) of all this historical action, but it never seemed that way to me while listening. I found this beautifully written. Mountstuart's style does go through subtle changes, reflecting his age and the style of whatever present he is describing and, as always, Simon Vance's narration takes the prose up a notch. Logan Mountstuart is multi-faceted, a selfish, serial adulterer - longing for love and human connection, always moving on, but seeking a sense of home and belonging, part of big picture, but still obsessed with daily minutiae. I don't need to admire a literary character in every aspect to find his life a fascinating subject, or to feel a mild sense of loss as the narrative gently winds down, just before the next big turning point of the 20th century - the fall of the Berlin wall.
Yes. The story being told through journal entries brings an intimacy to the main character that wouldn't have been possible in another format. He lives his fascinating life to the fullest, even though his decisions weren't always the best ones. He's not a perfect human being, but he is an intelligent one, one who experiences great love and inevitable loss. He meets some of the great artists of the 20th century while living in England, the US, Nigeria and France, and his World War II experience reminds us of some of the myriad ways in which that conflict inflicted its great losses.
The breadth of the story and the close-up view of the main character's life.
Simon Vance is a masterful narrator here---as he is in everything I've heard him read. I heartily recommend his participation in Stone's Fall by Iain Pears.
I missed Logan Mountstuart so much when the book was finished; I wanted it to go on and on.
Thank you for including such literary fiction on Audible!
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
Logan Mountstuart's story, which spans every decade of the 20th century (born 1906, died 1991), is told through his personal journals, which he has kept off and on at various stages of his life. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, he moved to England with his English father and Uruguayan mother as a young boy. The earliest pages of the journals having been lost, the story picks up sometime in LMS's teens, when he made a pact with his two best friends, which in one case, had lasting consequences. He decided to become a writer and published a successful novel after attending Oxford university, and his early success led him to meet some of the leading figures of the arts and letters, making for plenty of namedropping, from Hemingway (encountered in Spain during the civil war), to Picasso (whom he interviewed for an article), to Evelyn Waugh (who kissed him on the mouth), to name just a few. But his acquaintance with the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson may have had dramatic consequences, as he believed the duke, with whom he had fallen out of favour, later betrayed him during WWII, leading to two years of internment in Switzerland after a failed intelligence mission. Because of the nature of the documents through which we get to know LMS, we are presented with many facets of his life, from intimate details about his loves and lovers to little anecdotes and comments about a wide variety of topics and people.
LMS certainly lived an exciting life, but this book having been highly recommended to me by various people, and having read two of Boyd's books before, I had high expectations, and while I thought the story was very good for the most part, I wasn't so impressed with all the cameos and appearances of famous people in his life and kept wanting more, which is why the novel suddenly became absolutely fascinating to me when, as an old man, LMS hit hard times and had to go to extreme measures to eke out a living and fight to hang on to his dignity and sense of self, even as he found himself unable to write the novel that might have put him back on the map. By then end I was completely won over and quite fascinated by this monumental construction, which is one I'll have to find time to read again in future, as I'm sure I'll enjoy it very differently now that the whole picture has been revealed. Strongly recommended.
A man's got to do what a man's got to do..
This book is written as an autobiographic diary, and, at first, one can find it a bit obvious, if not boring, as the main character, Logan Montstuart (LMS), writes about his experiences of young middle-class boy going to public school and discovering life. But then quickly the story grows in intensity, interest and emotions, as Boyd draws his character with more decisive strokes and blends him in the “air du temps”. In his 85 years of life, LMS (a writer, art dealer, spy, professor and many things more) goes through the most complex periods and events of the 20th century not as a hero, but simply as a close witness. He happens to meet famous people (Picasso, Hemmingway, Virginia Wolff, Ian Fleming and Edward VIII, to name a few) to live in different countries and continents, to be involved in complex plots, but always as a witness or rather as someone that casually happens to be there rather than somebody truly driving his life and destiny. As he gets old, LMS becomes self reflective on his own experiences and more generally on life and its meaning. The reader, at the beginning a distant witness of his life, becomes more and more involved and moved by the uneven trajectory of LMS, his rise and fall, and his melancholic journey through old age.
The book is far from being perfect (at times one feels that episodes and famous characters are “thrown in” simply to make the story interesting and keep the momentum), but Boyd is a wonderful writer and little by little seduces and engages deeply the reader.
All in all, I truly enjoyed it !
The first part was hard to get into. The scribblings of an adolescent boy are pretty trying, but in a sense they were successful because of that. I applaud Boyd for being able to show character and more importantly, growth and change through the journal entries of LMS. The voice, perspective and level of maturity definitely change with each phase of his life and that's hard to pull off. So while I wasn't sure I'd like this LMS character, in the end I came to love him and each up and down in his life had me emotionally hooked. So much so that it's hard to think of this as a work of fiction, LMS's character is that real.
Partly it's because so many real-life people pepper his life including Hemingway, Picasso, Evelyn Waugh, Ian Flemming and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While not many of them penetrate to the core of LMS's life, they all affect the course of it. The reality they add to the narrative definitely contributes to the overall feeling of biography here, or I should say, autobiography. Although the beginning of LMS's life is basically smooth and tranquil, the middle and end have many surprises and strange scenes.
One reviewer I saw characterizes LMS's whole life as dismal and LMS himself as hapless. I wonder if we read the same book. While there are some moments that are out of his control and he is clearly an alcoholic, none of it is so desperately dire that we see him as a tragic figure. Instead I found LMS to be remarkably adaptable; resourceful and able to land on his feet. Yes, he's a randy bugger his whole life, but he knows true love and treasures it when he finds it. Yes, there is a lot of coincidence and LMS is connected to a lot of important people, but he has a very small circle of real friends who sustain him like the air he breathes.
And it's that interconnectedness and coincidence that frame one of the novel's strongest aspects; an overview of the ways and moves of the 20th century. From war to terrorism, art and attitudes, LMS's life encompasses a great deal of the change and upheaval that shaped the century from almost every outpost on the globe. If you are a student of history you'll love the little vignettes in Spain, Nigeria, Bahamas, England and France. All those changes and events shape LMS and his outlook and attitude although at heart he never really does change and he's not sorry or apologetic about anything in his life, even the dog food years.
If you've never read a William Boyd novel, this is a good one to start with. It's my 3rd and there will be more. Oh and a note about the narration (like the others, my experience of this Boyd novel was as an audio) - Simon Vance did a great job. LMS's voice does change character as he ages and Vance reflected that in each section of journal, capturing the enthusiasm, peril, resignation and joy of each phase of LMS's rich and varied life. Bravo!
I love literary fiction and some "guilty pleasures" such as the Louise Penny series. My hubby and I share his non-fiction titles.
Near the top of my list
Logan Mountstuart's life is an interesting trajectory through recent history. He hob-nobs with the likes of Hemingway and Picasso and is involved in the Spanish Civil War. The story paints a truly unflattering portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Logan struggles with loss, poverty, wealth, his alcoholism, nihilism and detachment. The story moves through four continents, including some time spent in the US. He finds some resolution as an older man living a simple life in France.
I was delighted to discover that the story is a series available for instand download on Nefltix.
Admittedly I stopped listening after about 7 hours. It was all just too much. The incredibly pretentious main character was too exhausting and I genuinely didn't care what would happen to him. The name-dropping was so frequent sometimes I felt all the narrator was doing was reading footnotes about who famous people are. Blech.
Yes, this is a classic underdog tale with excellent use of English language. As another reviewer commented, this is a very British "Forest Gump." It is a languid meander through the 20th century with fascinating characterization.
This is an episodic book, each moment creating its own linked, but encapsulated 'memorable moment.' So it is difficult to extract one moment from another. The central character, Logan Mountstuart is a completely self-absorbed person with no or little insight into his selfishness. He manages to travel through an extraordinary life with middle-class boredom and complete British detachment to the effects he has on other people (as is befitting to his upbringing and era) whilst remaining complex and somehow likeable.
Simon Vance created an understated but superbly crafted performance. He was able to transition from the schoolboy to elderly man and yet retain the same character, but with inflections of tone to suit the age of the character. Simon Vance conveyed the overall tone of Logan Mountstuart's character very well.
I don't live in the social circles of any of the characters from Any Human Heart. Going out to dinner with any of them would rely on their ability to put me at my ease. However, knowing them as I do from the book, I would know that the subtext of their thoughts would be how insufferably tedious they were finding the dinner. I would hate the social pressure to perform and try and seem interesting. Definitely a dinner invite to decline...
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