*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.