Where do you start with a book this good? I could not drink this in fast enough, a whirlwind of history, art, literature, love, life, chances and embarrassment. An incredible biography of a fictional man. Absolutely stunning. The novel takes the form of diary entries, sometimes philosophical or nihilistic, sometimes blunt and upfront. Logan is a man of many moods and opinions and this comes across in his journals. Sometimes dated, sometimes not, depending on where he is in his life. An omniscient and anonymous narrator links the parts together as best he can, where Logan has been inattentive in his continuity.
The intimate Diaries of Logan Mountstuart start with Logan as a child in Uruguay,
the son of a Beef Products manufacturer. His family move to Birmingham and we
witness his East Anglian school days with his friends Peter Scabius and
Benjamin Leeping, their bets and wagers designed to spice up their dull
academic lives. They will appear regularly through the rest of it. Then to his
unremarkable time studying History at Oxford, where Logan falls in love with
the mysterious Land Fothergill and decides that his future lies in writing.
He writes. A biography of Shelley and a sexy novel, some translations of
obscure French poets. He drifts from literature to journalism, to the art
world, to literary criticism, enjoying a modest amount of success at each. The
art scenes of London, Paris, New York. Battles of wits with Virginia Woolf,
meetings with Joyce and Picasso in Paris, then a spell as a civil War reporter
in Spain and acquaintance with Hemmingway (getting three Miro canvasses out of
it too). Barbados, Ian Fleming murder and the Duke of Windsor. The War lived
out in a Swiss prison. Logan spends so long waiting for his life to begin,
waiting for it to get more exciting, more important. It's not until he gets to
the latter stages of it that he realises it was important. He knew real love
once, and losing it does not take away that memory.
The Jazz era, the War years, the post war, then the psychedelic 60s all come
alive, bringing with them their important cultural who's-who that wend their
way into Logan's life. All depicted with such conviction, historical accuracy
and believability, that at times it's incredibly easy to forget that Logan
Mountstuart wasn't a real person too. "Surely not" you think as you
read this, "He must have existed and merely been forgotten by
history". Logan as a character is a dream. At times arrogant, at others
crippled with self-doubt and embarrassment. His respectable exterior and modest
professional success disguising his slides into alcoholism and adultery and his
grim bouts of depression. Every year ends in a roundup of friends lost,
resolutions to drink less and finish that novel he's planning.
Boyd skilfully (sooooo skilfully it's almost painful) weaves the eras of
Logan's life together, creating a person that is flawed, but always always
interesting. He drifts apart from his family, rarely sees his children, or any
of his ex-wives. His solitary life gets a bit grim, at one point he goes from a
respected professor living with a staff of four and a villa in Nigeria to
existing in a basement flat living on dog food and flogging political
newspapers to students. But his fortunes prove that poverty, good luck and
greatness can happen to anyone. Even the formerly grand Mrs. Mountstuart
descends from wealthy widow to dishevelled landlady on the few occasions that
her son visits her. We see that poverty has claimed her too.
I can't possibly even begin to describe the scope of this novel. It's an
absolute gift. Absorbing, intimate, funny, tragic, life affirming- the whole human
condition lived out in one remarkable life. The prose was absolutely joyous and
the tableaux of domestic family life, scandal, political upheaval and personal
disaster that it painted were beyond immersive.