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ANY HUMAN HEART by William Boyd Kirkus Star


by William Boyd

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41493-2
Publisher: Knopf

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.