Kalliope Muse speaks to me

Emigrée from GR

Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart (Foam Book) - William Boyd I have liked this book a great deal more than I wanted to admit. It flows easily, and the diary format, with short entries and some gossipy ingredients, makes it hard to break away. This was addictive reading.Several readers in GR have criticized that they do not like the main character. To me he comes across as an ordinary man, with weaknesses (alcohol and women), some cowardly reactions, but showing also bouts of integrity and a fair amount of self-honesty (to what extent does diary-writing invite to a truthful self-examination?).As a sort of anti-hero, his story seems a twentieth century Education Sentimentale. But I wonder whether the main character and his development is the only center of the book. I think of him as a catheter-like mechanism that travels through the interstices of the Twentieth Century. He moves from Uruguay, to British public school, Oxford, London, Paris, Spain, Bermudas, Switzerland, New York, Nigeria, London again, Germany, France… Moving from place to place, he is taken in by the series of events that unfolded during the dramatic century: pre- to post- WWI; Paris Avant-Garde; Financial Crash and 30s Depression; Spanish Civil War; Crisis in the British Crown; WW2 with the London Bombings and the not-really-neutral Switzerland; again the Avant-Garde in NY in the 50s; Nigeria and the Biafra the following decade; and the 70s in decrepit London under the Labour Gov. or in Germany at the time of the Red Army Faction, etc… The twentieth century itself emerges as the protagonist of the novel.Boyd’s handling of facts and fiction is brilliant. He uses a typical trick found in historical novels and that can easily become a trap. In all this traveling through time, we walk through a gallery of the rich and famous (Waugh, Hemingway, Woolf, Picasso, the Windsors, etc…), but in Boyd’s pen it does not become ridiculous. He handles the edited diary form quite effectively. There are footnotes with data on real events and people, gaps are clarified through additional notes from the (fictional) editor, and finally a (fake) bibliography of the author... etc. No wonder readers at first thought that the main character had been a writer in real life. In Any Human Heart, the life of an individual is tossed around by dramatic events so that it is hard to see to what extent the identity of any one person is shaped by circumstances and… “never say you know the last word of any human heart” (Henry James).

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