I didn’t think it would take me a week to get round to the next post on this blog – the sense of urgency drops off during the festive season, especially if you’ve artificially extended it with a few days’ holiday. Still, here we are, back in business.
I’ve been reading William Gerhardie’s “Memoirs of a Polyglot” recently. Long out of print, I managed to get a second-hand 1990 edition online (it was originally published in 1931). Gerhardie, as anyone who has read this blog over the last month will know, was one of the main inspirations for Logan Mountstuart, the writer character at the centre of William Boyd’s “Any Human Heart”. So far, I can’t see much affinity between the real Gerhardie and the fictional Mountstuart. WG seems more frivolous, a bit too self-assured in the pages of his memoir, but then he was writing it when he still had a career to speak of, well before those long decades of silence and obscurity had descended on him. I’ll persevere with it in any case; WG’s life was almost absurdly fascinating and exotic, and he can certainly write.
On WordPress, blog authors can check their daily, weekly and monthly statistics, so they can see how much internet traffic their site is attracting. Some days you might get one hit or none; other days you can get dozens. Anyone who writes a blog will be familiar with the obsessive need to keep checking your stats, often to the detriment of the actual writing. WordPress also keeps track of the search engine terms used to find your blog – so, for example, if anyone arrives at my blog after typing in the phrase “richard w strachan”, WordPress will keep a record of the search term. With a few variations, the phrase that people have typed most often into Google in order to get to my blog has been “Logan Mountstuart”. Something resonates to an extraordinary degree about this character, with a huge number of people. William Boyd has said that although the book garnered middling reviews when it was published, he receives more letters about it from readers than he does about any of his other works. I think it must be Logan’s humility, his fortitude in the face of appalling tragedy, and the stoical acceptance of his luck both good and bad, that attracts readers to him. Form plays its part here; Boyd wrote the novel as a journal intime, and clearly this makes the reader feel that they have privileged access to Logan’s thoughts and feelings. I see the success of the book, and of the TV adaptation, and the affection that so many people seem to feel for the character, as one of the supreme vindications of the long-form realist novel. (See also the outpouring of admiration and affection for Jonathan Franzen’s recent “Freedom”.) It may be seen as a sentimental throwback, but sometimes character does matter in fiction as much as style. At the very least, it tends to make the difference between love and mere admiration.