I applaud the point of this book, which is to look at a life from its early optimism and grand expectations to the realization of mediocrity and failure to ultimate acceptance. My problems with these fictional diaries of Uruguayan-born and English-raised Logan Monstuart are twofold: they don't read like actual diaries, even those of a writer, and there is a sense of literary pretentiousness that prevented me from warming to the protagonist, even while I admired his honesty and beautiful prose.
Without resorting to too many spoilers, I'll just say that the best part of this novel is the second portion.
Chronicles Monstuart's years at English boarding school and then university: this part doesn't read like what you would expect to find in the diary of a teenager and a young twenty-something man (what teenager, even one who wants to be a writer, has the time or the inclination to spell out everything he does in full words and perfectly grammatical sentences?), but the experiences felt entirely real and the relationship that Monstuart had with his two best friends, Peter Scabius and Ben Leeping (which continue for the length of the book) were wonderful. Their camaraderie, their jealousies, their prospects, their escapades, their early attempts at meeting girls -- all are richly detailed and riveting in their sheer ordinariness. You really end up remembering what it was like to be young and excited about the life in front of you.
Where this book starts to go off track is during Montstuart's narrative about his life during World War II. While it's refreshing in a way not to have another depressing account of life in wartime England, Montstuart is so far from the action and doing so little that the book just drags. Even as a commentary on how life can start to go off track, the section just isn't remarkable, except for the very end, when something finally does happen to Monstuart. But it's still so far removed from all the drama of the war that it ends up being a disappointing section and when Monstuart gets back to post-wartime England, we really get almost no sense of what it was like. And I can barely remember anything about the following section, in which Montstuart moves to and lives in New York, even though I just read it this week. As best I can recall, it contains a lot of Monstuart's thoughts about American artists of the 1950's -- some artistic pretentiousness to go with the literary analyses found elsewhere in the book. If you're into the art and literature of the early and mid-20th century you might find these parts interesting, but Monstuart's analytical nature kept me from caring about him or even disliking him. It just kept me away from him, period. The only remarkable thing about this section is, once again, how Monstuart leaves it.
The portion of the novel set in Nigeria is one of the better portions. I was seventeen years old when the problems in Biafra begun, and I thought the book was educational on this point and brought part of Africa alive for me, something that Boyd manages not to do with most of the locales in the middle of the book. He improves toward the very end of the book, when Montstuart is an old man, and we start to get a real sense of who he has become and which relationships in his life have been and are meaningful to him.
Overall I really liked watching one life unfold, from an idyllic childhood to a hopeful young adulthood to a sidetracked and disappointed adulthood to an old age marred by impecunity and death, and finally mellowed by some sort of wisdom and grace. I just wished I could have felt a little bit more for Logan Monstuart, one way or another. He was just kind of there. Maybe that was the point. Worth reading, but not one to get wildly excited about.
bookshelves: impac-longlist, booker-longlist, fraudio, published-2002, winter-20132014, tbr-busting-2014, spies, historical-fiction, lit-richer, lifestyles-deathstyles, art-forms, epistolatory-diary-blog, south-americas, uruguay, britain-england, cults-societies-brotherhoods, sport, gr-library, france, paris, oxford, glbt, spain, books-about-books-and-book-shops, norfolk, teh-brillianz, greece, adventure, cover-love, epic-proportions, eye-scorcher, london, madrid, war, wwii, lisbon, portugal, filthy-lucre, nassau, bahamas, switzerland, britain-scotland, iceland, suicide, teh-demon-booze, new-york, germany, picaresque, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, travel, edinburgh, those-autumn-years, too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts, washyourmouthout-language, north-americas, music, midlife-crisis, african-continent, afr-nigeria, skoolzy-stuff, dodgy-narrator, afr-somalia
Read from November 28, 2013 to January 16, 2014
Read by Mike Grady
From the description: The journals begin with Mountstuart's 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 twentieth-century life.
In the fashion of Zelig, Forrest Gump and the 100 year old man, Mountstuart is in all the right places meeting all the important people, however Any Human Heart is an absolute joy as Boyd's writing leaves those also-rans in the starting gates.
Purringly enjoyed Logan's slamming of the Bloomsbury set, that circle of spite who lived in squares and loved in triangles. Not sure about the portrayal of Duke and Duchess and for this reason I support a flawed, dodgy narrator scenario.
And that goodreads product description box - WTF! It is just a review filched over from Amazon book sales, with its inherent bias. Bad News! Check the product description elsewhere.
Born on April 20, 1893 in Barcelona, Joan Miró Ferra was a Spanish painter.
From wiki: Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet (December 23, 1874 – July 7, 1943) was an American-born British Canadian gold mine owner, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He earned his fortune in Canada and in the 1930s moved to the Bahamas for tax purposes, where he was murdered in 1943 in notorious circumstances. The cause of death and the details surrounding it have never been entirely determined, and have been the subject of several books and four films.
Have the TV miniseries to watch at some stage, however, for now, I will mull over the full life of Logan MS - I am in my weeds for you.
5* Any Human Heart - recommended
4* Brazzaville Beach
WL Waiting for Sunrise
Very impressive, with some superb moments. Some fillers and some implausible occurrences, but an enjoyable, very readable book.
Wonderful book, great style (I loved the index at the end making it a feel like a real biography!) - and perfectly described as a life both ordinary and extraordinary.