Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The introduction, discussion questions and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your groups reading of Any
Human Heart, by William Boyd, author of Armadillo, The
Blue Afternoon, and Brazzaville Beach. William Boyd, who has been
called "a master storyteller" (Chicago Tribune) and "one of the
most skillful and appealing writers at work today" (The Atlantic Monthly),
now gives us his most entertaining, sly and compelling novel to date, a novel
that evokes the tumult, events and iconic faces of our time, as it tells the
story of Logan Mountstuartwriter, lover, and man of the worldthrough his
Is Logan a likeable and engaging character? If so, what are the qualities
that make him so? Is he a risk-taker? Is he egotistical? What qualities does he
bring to his friendships? How does he change as he grows older?
What is the purpose of the "challenges" that Peter, Ben and Logan
impose upon each other in their last year at Abbey? How is Logans approach to
his challenge indicative of his approach to life? Why is Logan so unhappy at
Oxford, and why does he receive only a third-class degree?
Logans father is the manager of a corned-beef factory; his Uruguayan
mother was his fathers secretary but claims descent from the Spaniard who
first entered Uruguay in the sixteenth century. What are Logans assumptions
about his own class status while at Abbey, at Oxford, and in his first marriage
to the daughter of an Earl? Is he a snob or just the opposite? To what degree is
Logans life determined by the solid bourgeois values his father instills in
Is Logans early literary success surprising? Is it a matter of luck, or
is it driven by his intelligence and his confidence in his own abilities? At the
beginning of 1929 he writes "I sense my life as a writermy writers life,
my real lifehas truly begun" [p. 113]. How does this idea resonate
throughout the book? Why does Logan choose to have his tombstone commemorate
him, simply, as a writer? Is his autobiography his most significant work?
What role does sexuality play in Logans life, and to what extent is his
erotic life an indicator of the level of his vitality?
Throughout the novel, various historical figures pass through Logans
lifeErnest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Ian Fleming, the Duke and
Duchess of Windsor, etc. [see index]. What is the effect of these moments? How
do these famous people come across in real life?
Logans chance meeting with Freya is described in urgent, bewildered
terms: "it terrifies me, the fragility of these moments in our lives. If I
hadnt lost my passport. If her father hadnt crashed the car. . . . If she
hadnt gone to the consulate at that precise hour. . . . The view ahead is
empty and void: only the view backward shows you how utterly random and
chance-driven these vital connections are" [p. 155]. The loss of Freya and
Stella is similarly chance-driven. How is Logan changed by the deaths of Freya
During the Spanish Civil War, Logan and his friend Faustino discuss what
is most important to them. To Faustinos "love of life, love of humanity,"
Logan adds "love of beauty" [p. 185]. How important is this friendship to
Logan? What is the significance in Logans life of the Miro paintings Logan "inherits" from
What happens on Logans mission in Switzerland? Why is he captured? Was
the whole mission, and Logans long imprisonment, a set-up? If so, who set it
up and why? What does Boyd want his readers to understand about this crucial and
tragic episode in Logans life, and why doesnt he explain exactly how and
why it came about? Does Logan ever exact revenge on those he suspects are
How does Boyd use Any Human Heart to comment on the relationship
between an individual life and the historical moments through which that
individual lives? What, if anything, is the relationship between the two? How
does Logan react to, or interact with, the moments that become "history"? Is
history a critical part of Logans life, or simply its backdrop?
How reliable is Logan as the narrator of his own story? Are there moments
when the reader distrusts the veracity of Logans account? Or, on the
contrary, does the journal form project a sense of immediacy and truthfulness?
What is comical, or touching, about the phase of life Logan calls his "dog-food" period [see pp. 416-18]? How does he adapt to poverty and
obscurity, given the wealth, success, and fame of his youth?
Boyds book The New Confessions is a fictional autobiography of
a character whose life spanned much of the twentieth century; Any Human Heart
takes up, with a very different character, a similar fictional task. If you
have read The New Confessions how do the books differ? What do both books
express about the process of telling a life? What is it about fictional
autobiography that might interest a writer so much?
What is the reason for the dwindling of Logans creative life? How
humiliating is it when his literary agent points out that his books havent
made money since the Second World War? Why does he destroy the draft of Octet
before his death? Given that his friend Peter Scabius is meant to be a sort of
foil to Logan in his writing career, what does the novel have to say about the
vocation of writing?
What is the effect of "The French Journal"? What does Logan mean when
he says "the pleasures of my life are simplesimple, inexpensive and
democratic" [p. 476]? What are Logans realizations in his old age? What has
changed about Logans observant eye and his state of mind? Does this section
provide what could be seen as a happy ending to Logans life?
What illusion is created by the novels footnotes and index? The notes
indicate an editorwho might this editor have been, and why doesnt Boyd
complete the illusion by providing the editors name?
Late in his life Logans thoughts about Freya and Stella become a
meditation on luck: "Freya and Stella. That was my good luck. . . . Thats
all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the
bad luck you experience. . . . Theres nothing you can do about it: nobody
shares it out, allocates it to this one or that, it just happens. We must
quietly suffer the laws of mans condition, as Montaigne says" [p. 458]. To
what degree is this conclusion sensible, even profound, in its stoic
The books title, as the epigraph points out, comes from novelist Henry
James: "Never say you know the last word about any human heart." Does Boyd
want his readers to assume that despite the private revelations of the diary
form, we still cannot know the last word about Logan Mountstuart? Does the human
heart refute even self-authored attempts at revealing a complete truth?
Suggested Reading Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers; Graham Greene, The Heart of the
Matter; James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ian
McEwan, Atonement; Edmund Morris, Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan;
Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire; Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of
Time; Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; Evelyn
Waugh, A Handful of Dust; Virginia Woolf, Orlando.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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