Book Quote Friday: Perfecting the Voice

Any Human Heart     Now, I've not quite finished this book yet, but already it's clear to me that 'Any Human Heart' by William Boyd is a masterpiece of characterisation and voice. Written in the form of a diary, with the odd explanatory insert, it spans the life of the protagonist, Logan Mountstuart, from his Uruguayan beginnings in 1912 to his death in the early 1990s. We travel with him from Oxford to Paris,  Nigeria to New York, the Bahamas to Switzerland, and from London to the French countryside (I'm being deliberately vague so I don't inadvertantly include too many spoilers).

      The test, I think, of an fictitious diary or memoir is whether we find it increasingly and incredibly hard to believe that the protagonist is not really in existence. 

     To me, put quite simply, Logan Mountstuart is as real as you or me.

     'Tuesday, 2 April

     It is late, 11.00pm, and I am sitting alone in an empty compartment sipping whisky from a flask as the boat train rumbles out of Waterloo through London's grimy ill-lit suburbs towards Tilbury. I will be in Paris by dawn.

     Land and I dined at Previtali's and then she came to the station to see me off. I kept trying to make her fix a date for her visit but all she would talk about was the election, Ramsay McDonald, Oliver Lee, the constituency and so on. The train was about to leave when I drew her behind a trolley piled with mailbags and said, 'Land, for Christ's sake, I love you,' and I kissed her. Well, she kissed me back all right: we only stopped when a couple of porters whistled at us. 'Come to Paris,' I said. 'I'll send for you as soon as I'm set up.' 'Logan, I've got a job.''Come for the weekend.' 'Let's see,' she said. 'Write to me.'Then she took my face between her hands and kissed the top of my nose. 'Logan,' she said, 'we have all the time in the world.' Nunc scio quid sit Amor [Now I know what love is].'

     The beauty of it, I think, is that Boyd has succinctly identified Logan's blindspots, the places where he stumbles and isn't sure why, and has created a pattern with them across the decades, as we all do (inadvertedly) in our real lives. He also never offers explanations of Logan's actions or motivations, (because who would, in their own diary?) which makes the entire novel entirely believable and an incredible lesson in the art of 'showing, not telling' (yep, that old chestnut). Most of the time we know why he's doing what he's doing, even when he doesn't, which seems to me to be a pretty good sign that a writer has got his characterisation right and has, in some way, struck gold.

    It's also pretty helpful that Logan meets a lot of interesting people (Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollack...) and goes to a lot of epic, controversial and iconic places at, it seems, just the right times to be in the thick of it or to reflect effectively on the spirit of an age. It is a novel though: no point in sitting him in rural Berkshire his whole life with only his aged Aunt Muriel for company (although I can see that getting very dark very quickly...).

Any Human Heart - Season 1 - 2-DVD Set ( Any Human Heart - Season One ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2.4 Import - United Kingdom ]     Anyway, I recommend this book, with all my heart, to anyone who's lived, really. If you can't identify with at least a part of it, you're probably dead, or living with your Aunt Muriel, taking tea everyday at 4pm with a blanket upon your knee.

     The recent adaptation shown on Channel 4 in the UK was also brilliant and very true to the spirit of the book. Check it out, now.

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