Longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2002, Any Human Heart takes readers on a journey through the 20th century, by way of an extraordinary story of a life lived to the fullest

Whether you’re new to Any Human Heart or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide.

Publication date and time: Published


Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary – but Logan Mountstuart’s is more extraordinary than most. As a writer who finds inspiration with Hemingway in Paris and Woolf in London, as a spy recruited by Ian Fleming and betrayed in the war and as an art-dealer in 60s New York, Logan mixes with the movers and shakers of his times. But as a son, friend, lover and husband, he makes the same mistakes we all do in our search for happiness.

Longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2002, William Boyd’s entertaining story of a life apparently lived to the full is a journey deep into a very human heart.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

The main characters

Logan Mountstuart

Logan is the story’s protagonist, born at the turn of the 20th century. He is a well-educated writer and lives an adventurous life, full of espionage, murder and war. He can be seen as intelligent yet arrogant and not always likeable. He lives many lives throughout the span of his own, working as a journalist reporting on the Spanish Civil War, a spy for naval intelligence during the Second World War and as an art dealer in New York.

Lady Laeticia Edgefield

Laeticia, an Earl’s daughter also known as Lottie, is Logan’s first wife. They live at Thorpe Hall in Norfolk and have a child together, but Logan abandons both her and his son, Lionel. He has an affair and Lottie ends up divorcing him.

Freya Deverell

Logan meets Freya on holiday where he begins an affair with her. After his divorce, he marries her, making her his second wife. Freya is the love of his life and they have a daughter together called Stella.

Alannah Rule

Alannah is Logan’s third wife who he meets in New York. She is an American attorney and has two daughters from a previous relationship. They both have affairs with other people and end up separating.

Logan Mountstuart is played by Matthew Macfadyen, Jim Broadbent and Sam Claflin in the television adaptation of Any Human Heart

About the author

Born in Ghana, William Boyd is the author of one work of non-fiction, Bamboo, three collections of short stories and 13 novels.

His work includes the bestselling historical spy thriller Restless – winner of the Costa Novel of the Year – and Any Human Heart, in which the character of Ian Fleming features. Among his other awards are the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Prix Jean Monnet. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2005, he was awarded the CBE.

William Boyd

What the critics said

Peter Green, Los Angeles Times Book Review:

‘Boyd has an exceptional ability to tell a really compelling story, in dense imaginative detail, about characters with complex, and convincing, emotional lives… I’ve already read this book twice and probably shall again. Of how many novels can that be said?’

Christopher Tayler, London Review of Books:

Any Human Heart struggles earnestly to embody the uncertainties that his previous novels have only registered as themes. […] for too much of the time, Mountstuart is revealed for what he is: a device allowing Boyd to write about 20th-century celebrities in the pastiche idiom of a contemporary observer. Boyd hustles you through to the end despite all this, but it’s hard not to wonder if it was really worth making the journey.’

Erica Wagner, Times:

‘The strength of this novel is that Boyd never allows his portraits of the famous (Picasso, the Duke and Duchess, Fleming, Virginia Woolf, to name but a few) to interfere with or overwhelm the story’s emotional core. […] The power of this novel lies in just what it seems to lack: a last word. It convinces the reader that Logan Mountstuart lived, somehow, outside of its pages: its apparent weakness is its particular strength.’

Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph:

‘[A] work of astonishing ventriloquistic virtuosity. […] One remembers that this is a novel, indeed, chiefly because it grips like one – which is quite a feat, because Boyd has also skilfully mimicked the “artless” and random qualities of every diary.’ 

Peter Cameron, Washington Post:

‘One of the pleasures offered by William Boyd’s new novel, Any Human Heart – and its pleasures are countless – is perhaps the simplest one a reader can know: following a character through his or her life. […] fortunately Logan is a fully rounded character, not a mere Zeitgeist device.’ 

Gillian Anderson as the Duchess of Windsor and Tom Hollander as the Duke of Windsor in the television adaptation of Any Human Heart

What the author said

‘I think that old saying, “All history is the history of unintended consequences” rings very true. The overriding theme of Any Human Heart is that all our lives are governed by luck. Any life is the sum of all the good luck and bad luck you’ve had and some manifestly had a lot of good luck or bad luck but with most people it sort of evens out over the course of threescore years and ten.

‘That world view is entirely plausible but it’s faithless. There’s no deity so it is your human experience and your human predicament ultimately and you better make the most of it while you can. That’s very much my own view of life. There’s a sense that your present happiness, whatever that may be, is actually an incredibly fragile thing and most of us can’t bear to think about that but it’s quite good to have it at the back of your mind because it does govern the way you make decisions. That contentment or that stasis of happiness can be shattered at any moment. If you believe in a God or Gods, then there’s a whole other story, but if you don’t you’re stuck in the present moment keeping your fingers crossed, advancing with due caution. That’s how I approach life and I dare say it colours the way I write about my fictional lives as well.’

Read William Boyd’s full interview in The White Review.

William Boyd, London 1996

Questions and discussion points

Written in journal format, Any Human Heart comes with footnotes, commentary and an index. Why do you think the author chose to furnish the novel with these accessories – is he trying to create an illusion? And to what degree is he successful? 

An array of famous people are included in the novel, such as Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Pablo Picasso. Do you think including such prominent and real-life characters within the novel adds believability, or detracts from it – and why? 

The novel stretches across Logan’s life from 1923-91 and throughout this, he experiences many life changes, resulting in a transformation of self. Discuss the differences in his character and nature throughout the plot, and the events that may have shaped him. 

Any Human Heart is peppered with socio-political events and key periods from human history, such as the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the cultural revolution in the 1950s and 60s. How does William Boyd leverage the arc of history to tell Logan’s story? And how does it intertwine with the life of the individual? 

The diary-style entries detail a life lived in the moment, without reflection or future revisionism. But to what extent do you think Logan’s account is subjective and trustworthy? Is his here-and-now account documentary more honest than a life reflected upon, or is his narration unreliable? 

At one point in the novel, Logan questions if lies form the natural foundation of all human relationships: ‘Are our lives just the aggregate of the lies we’ve told? (‘Lives’ - the ‘v’ is silent.)’ Do you think Logan’s statement is true? Discuss to what extent our lives and particularly our relationships are made up of our deceptions throughout. 

Art is woven into the fabric of the narrative, from individual painters to whole movements. What is art’s role within the novel, and how does Boyd use it to explore Logan’s identity?

At the age of 71, Logan reflects: ‘As I write this I feel that draining, hollowing helplessness that genuine love for another person produces in you. It’s at these moments that we know we are going to die.’ In what ways does Logan, and Boyd, grapple with the profound connection between love, life and death throughout the novel? Does love offer any solace as he confronts the inevitability of his own mortality?

When writing on the subject of journals in the Guardian, William Boyd said ‘This thesis that we are an anthology, a composite of many selves, was put into practice when I decided to write my last novel, Any Human Heart.’ Do you think Boyd succeeds in showing this multiplicity of self throughout the novel, and Mountstuart’s own written depiction of his life? 

The title of the book is borrowed from a quotation from the author Henry James: ’Never say you know the last word about any human heart’. What message is William Boyd attempting to convey to the reader through these borrowed words? 

Novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway at the Belchite sector, during the Spanish Civil War

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Any Human Heart by William Boyd