Book Review: Any Human Heart

Books Sep 10, 2021

I discovered an absolute gem in William Boyd's Any Human Heart!

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and one which uses diary-style writing often. But what makes this book quite unique was how Boyd purposefully split the journal with significant time breaks and included compiler's note to make it so very realistic. To the extent that I went to Google 'Logan Mountstuart' and check if it was actually a real person!

I was thinking about this last night. According to an FT article, our attention span has decreased from 12 minutes to just 5. And maybe I'm looking for evidence to satisfy my hypothesis but it seems that modern books, especially those targeted at the younger generations, are becoming increasingly faster and extraordinary - because that is what captures our attention. This leads to sometimes books being exciting and 'page-turning' but not especially realistic. Another side-effect of this is that the purpose of the words and writing is only to communicate the story. I believe words deserve much more. A beautiful book is one with every single sentence, every word choice thought through - there is music and melody and depth and imagery.

A story is a symphony.

Why am I droning on? Well, Logan's story is remarkable: with so many plot twists and major changes. And yet, each phase of his life and activity is believable. And this is why I'd like to applaud Boyd: for spinning such a colourful and exciting yet believable tale with the writing of high standards.

Selected quotes and ruminations

This is it. This is why I enjoyed keeping a diary. And this is why I need to do it again.

We keep a journal to entrap that collection of selves that forms us, the individual human being.

And my bestest of friends definitely do satisfy this:

We're all busy people, we can't spend our time simply trying to stay in touch. The test of friendship is if it can weather these inevitable gaps.

Oh, I just love this. I'd like to describe myself as a cosmopolite if it is so defined. It has that much more than the dandy.

Cosmopolites ... They are all about romance, about life's excitement and adventure and its essential sadness and trasience. They savour everything both fine and bittersweet that life has to offer us - stoical in their hedonism
This is the key difference: in good prose, precision must always triumph over decoration.

The last few pages of the book and one of my all-time favourite descriptions of nature. Maybe it's the math that got me. When I close my eyes, I see a small grove right next to the Cam in Grantchester where that varying leaf cover and sunlight filtering through combines with the gentle ripples on the surface of the water to give an ethereal experience of drops of gold and silver floating around you - the magic.

And, closer to, the sharp clarity of sunlight on the bushes and the creeper around the house is perfect: the perfect balance of lead-shadow, leaf-shine and leaf-translucence - absolutely correct, as if worked out by mathematical formulae to provide the ideal visual stimulus.


Zubair Junjunia

Building ZNotes from age 16, outspoken promoter of UN SDG4 as One Young World & STEM ambassador, maths graduate from UCL. Staying sane by running, open-water swimming and figure & inline skating.