Discovering that the adaptation of Any Human Heart (Boyd again, sorry if it’s getting repetitive) was going to be shown prior to Christmas in a four-part dramatisation series was a bit of a gift. I instantly called my Dad and told him to Sky Plus it (we are mutual Boyd fans and insatiable readers), and bookmarked Christmas Eve to Boxing Day to watch it together.
I first read Any Human Heart when I lived in Hertfordshire and had to travel miles on the Metropolitan line to get anywhere. I remember the book’s key events by the passing scenery, looking up from the pages as the train rolled on.
This is the mark of a great book: remembering exactly where you were when you read it. Remembering your mood. Remembering the weather. There’s a glorious monologue in one of my favourite films, Sideways, about considering what was happening during the year of a bottle of wine. That’s just how I feel about books – I consider the year of the author writing, I consider the story itself, and I consider my own time and place. And then I remember it, often mapping exact phrases, quotes and occasionally even page numbers to where I was at the time of reading.
Which is why it came as a slight shock that, as I watched the TV series, I couldn’t remember a great deal of the book, despite only having read it three years ago. I watched, rapt, as the hero Logan Mountstuart lived out his fascinating life filled with love affairs, untimely deaths and encounters with twentieth-century celebrities, from the jovial Ernest Hemingway to the vile Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The only plausible explanation I can give for my disgraceful loss of memory is that the story is richly intricate, filled with tragic twists and utter pathos. And it’s over 500 pages.
Jim Broadbent, Matthew Macfadyen and Sam Claflin all play Mountstuart, the “collection of selves” who hardly recognise who the other has become. Fitting then, since they looked nothing like each other – clearly Boyd’s intention to smack home the point (quite wonderfully, Boyd also wrote the programme’s screenplay, and rightly so).
The sheer volume of extraordinary events that occur during Mountstuart’s ordinary life underline the class in Boyd’s storytelling: it’s a classic formula that works – ‘if it can happen to him, it can happen to me’. Hence any human heart. We care because it could be us, and any one of our different “selves”, getting lucky, or unlucky, as the case may be.
Without feeling the need or desire to reveal the plot (quite frankly, this post would be miles long even if I bullet-pointed it), I will leave you with this: if you’re after a fantastical yet plausible, intricately-detailed, gripping life story spanning the entire twentieth century, read the book. If you’re after superb acting from a stellar cast and a life story condensed into six hours, buy the DVD or watch it here. If you’re hoping to remember page numbers or exact phrases, there’s only one that you need take away:
“All life is about luck. That’s all there is, in the end.”