A rich, unruly work, intermittently skimpy and chaotic. And, in its best pages (of which there are a fortunate many), a...

The up-and-down life and times of a globetrotting author-adventurer, chronicled with exuberant wit and romantic gusto.

Like Boyd’s The New Confessions (1988), Any Human Heart is a panoramic picaresque. It details in nine chronologically arranged (and footnoted) journals their eponymous author’s experiences in South America (where he’s born, to a British meat-packing executive and his Uruguayan secretary), at an English public school, and later in Oxford, and thereafter on several continents, often in the company of the great and near-great. After showing early promise as a writer, Logan (1906–91) becomes a correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War. In Paris, Hemingway and Fitzgerald accept him as a peer (as will such eminences as Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh—though Virginia Woolf isn’t much impressed). Picasso sketches him; and Logan’s quick study of Europe’s art milieu gains him possession of valuable paintings that will enrich and complicate his later years. But in the meantime he works for British Naval Intelligence under Ian Fleming, goes to the Bahamas to observe suspicious behavior by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, spends time in a Swiss POW camp, lives down and out in London, becomes involved with the murderous German Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang in the early 1970s, and rebounds as a successful Manhattan art dealer (in a sequence that recalls Boyd’s hoax “biography” of a nonexistent artist: Nat Tate), before eventually retiring to the French countryside. The tale is lively and likable, if awfully anecdotal, and perversely given to serial name-dropping. The titled journals are furthermore of very uneven quality—though those dealing with “The Second World War” and “The Post-War” contain some of Boyd’s best writing. And Logan is really less a fully realized character than a recording device. But what a device.

A rich, unruly work, intermittently skimpy and chaotic. And, in its best pages (of which there are a fortunate many), a nearly irresistible entertainment.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41493-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002



The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992



The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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