William Boyd’s book Any Human Heart follows the life of writer Logan Mountstuart (LMS) through some of the most defining and turbulent years of the Twentieth Century. The book is based on the journals of LMS, an approach which allows a uniquely personal insight into the deepest feelings of the character. This works brilliantly, as it captures character’s humanity – his lust, frailty, fortune and despair, and lays it bare before us on the page. In doing so it reveals something profound about all of us, how we live our lives with the hand we’re dealt and interact with the events of our time. Indeed it’s this passage through every decade of the past century that provides the book with a second compelling strand of narrative. Through his long life, LMS encounters the bright young people of the 1920s, is forever changed by WWII and has a particularly memorable run in with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, amongst an array of others.
I’ve taken this book quiet slowly over quite a number of weeks, dipping into just a few pages each evening, and progressing LMS’s life little by little. By the conclusion of Any Human Heart I found I can scarcely recall the early years, which rather accurately reflect the memories of the man himself, looking back 70 years on from his earliest journal entries. By doing this, I felt I’ve followed LMS on his journey, albeit in microcosm, allowing me some of the same reflection of LMS’s actions over the weeks I read the book as the character applies to himself over the years of his life.
Any Human Heart is probably now best known for its television adaptation, which was shown in the UK at the end of 2010 on Channel 4. Not having heard of the book at the time, I was attracted by the dramatic trailer (see below) with the brilliant musical accompaniment of Ludovico Einaudi’s Nightbook. The adaptation compressed the book into four 90 minute episodes; quite a challenge for the life time covered in the book, but pulls it off rather well in my view. I particular enjoyed Matthew Macfadyen’s portrayal of Logan at his most dynamic best during the prime of life, as well as Gillian Anderson’s truly superb portrayal of Wallis Simpson (who has become the Duchess of York by the time LMS crosses her and her husband’s path).
I’d thoroughly recommend both the book and the TV version, although if you’ve not seen the TV version, go with the book first, to fully appreciate the events without any spoilers.