More thoughts on Logan Mountstuart

*Warning! Contains spoilers … * (Also, as this is by far the most popular post I’ve ever written for this blog, it should be stated here that no, Logan Mountstuart is not a real person. He’s a fictional character created by the writer William Boyd for his novel ‘Any Human Heart’.)

Sunday saw the last episode of William Boyd’s adaptation of his own novel, “Any Human Heart”, bringing to a close six hours of superb television. Jim Broadbent took over in the final quarter, ushering Logan Mountstuart into a penurious old age, where failure gradually gave way to a kind of wisdom. Living in his basement flat on tins of dog food (it’s cheap), still failing to write another novel and with his books out of print, Logan’s languishing in obscurity seemed like a horrible end for the character. Although his later involvement with a cell of the Baader Meinhof gang might have stretched credulity a bit, it still fitted in with the historical sweep of Logan’s life, and the odd byways that had brought him into contact with Ernest Hemingway or the odious Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In self-imposed exile in his ramshackle French farmhouse, Logan’s final lunge at romance might not have paid off, but it seemed to exorcise the ghosts that had been haunting him since the war. The final scenes, as he looked into the empty folder of his “latest” novel, and with the camera then panning back to reveal the stacks and stacks of his journal, showed what the series had always been hinting at – Logan’s novels weren’t his life’s work, his journal was. His life was his life’s work. There was something intensely moving about the coda, with the camera prowling through the aisles of the Piccadilly branch of Waterstone’s to rest at a table heaving with published copies of “Any Human Heart: The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart”.

Becoming slightly obsessed with the character (and I *still* haven’t read the book), I looked up some interviews with William Boyd online and discovered that he was partly based on a forgotten writer called William Gerhardie. A huge success in the 1920s, an influence on Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene (both of whom considered him a genius), Gerhardie’s flame waned and sputtered out by 1940, and he never published another book. He died in 1977 – as Boyd says, that’s a long period of silence. Into that silence Boyd constructs an extraordinary life, but one that seems marked by defeat and tragedy far more than success. Writing seems to torment Logan (writing anything other than his journal), and I think Boyd takes a brave stance here for a novelist – it’s living that’s important, not writing, and living is more often than not just the operation of luck.

I had a look at the four books of Gerhardie’s that the university library has on its shelves. They look quite mannered, very much of their time, and no one has checked them out for many years. Literary posterity, it seems, is without mercy. I only hope Gerhardie’s life contained more of the comedy of Mountstuart’s, and less of the tragedy.

(Addendum: 1/3/2011) In recent weeks the number of hits to this blog has expanded dramatically, and almost every hit has been led here by a web search for information regarding “Logan Mountstuart”. I find it extraordinary that so many people have been affected by this character, and Boyd’s ability to craft from real-life examples a character who is far more than just a representative composite of his times.

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11 thoughts on “More thoughts on Logan Mountstuart

  1. john morello

    I agree…the minute I finished ‘Any Human Heart’ , I began searching for other novels by ‘Logan Mounstuart’. At the very least, I thought, I should read ‘The Villa By The Lake’. But like so many others, I was taken in, willingly, I suppose, but taken in none the less by William Boyd’s writing, which made everything so plausible.

    Reply
  2. Moira Saucedo

    Watched the “Any Human Heart” series with absorbed interest, and now have found out to my dismay that Logan Mountstuart is a fictional character. Damn!

    Reply
    1. Nichole M

      Same comment as Moira…wonderful character and story. So few stories actually capture life at each stage and so few lives so interesting.

      The idea of good luck and bad luck and that is all there is certainly makes one ponder..and even more so when you realize that many people likely have much more bad luck than good however rich their lives are. I wish us all life of good luck.

      Reply
    2. Pat Gross

      I have also just finished reading the book, I thought Logan Mountstuart was a real person, so rather surprised. I had no idea it has been made into a film or TV series.

      Reply
  3. steve beakhouse

    I happened to see Any Human Heart on Master Piece Theater and loved the story , so I duly went to the Library looking for books by Logan Mounystuart and I was surprised to see the name William Boyd as the author. The book was out so I put it on hold. Finally after 3 weeks I got a call that the book was available. So, here’s how dense I am . I pick up the book and see William Boyd as author . I’ve been reading the book and I keep asking myself, and anyone who’ll listen , why is William Boyd listed as the author. A name that did come up in the book that I was familiar with but had not done any research was Cyrill Connolly . I wondered to myself whether Logan was a contemporary of Cyrill Connolly and looked both of them on Google. Then finally I read something about William Boyd partly basing his character of Logan Mountstuart on Connolly. And while disappointed it won’t ruin the rest of the book for me but I must confess I was a little peeved at being duped.
    Steve B
    .

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  4. Pat Gross

    having jusr read the book which I enjoyed very much, I find it interesting to discover that this is not a real character, when I Googled LoganMountstuard I expected to find a writer of some note!!

    Reply
  5. Trish Jones

    I must say I was rather hoping his was a real character too,I’m only half way through the t.v series and still enjoying it.

    Reply
  6. Michael Harvey

    I was puzzled when Logan was in a train beginning a journey to Paris – he wrote that he had left Waterloo (a station in south London serving the southwestern suburbs and beyond) and was passing through the suburbs on the way to Tilbury (a port in Essex, east of London, north of the Thames). I am not sure if I am just being a trainspotter: anyone who has lived in London for more than five minutes would know that you wouldn’t start from Waterloo to get to Tilbury, which isn’t a port from which you can sail to France. It would be a bit like having him go from Paddington to Newcastle in order to sail to Spain. Could this be Boyd playing with the reader?

    Reply
  7. Michael Harvey

    Oh, and he also thinks you start from Waterloo to get to Harwich. Does Boyd think there is only one station in London? (I suspect not).

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  8. rowbat

    I was a little disappointed in the tv adaptation. The book had a magical quality to it, as you gradually became aware of what Boyd was doing and began to see the possibilty of looking at your own life with the same awareness of the randomness of chance and fate. This is a hard concept to translate to film – on tv it seemed to me more just a story of one (very interesting, to be sure) person’s life, with little of the more profound subtext.

    The novel remains one of my all time favourites.

    Reply

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