Reading Any Human Heart by William Boyd I got a sense of deja vu. It reminded me of something. A wide ranging novel about a twentieth century life, staring an artist of sorts who intersects with real people at key moments of history. An interesting story about a life which would overwise be overlooked. Then it hit me, it reminded me of The New Confessions – by William Boyd.

Is it a bad thing if an authors novels remind you of their other ones. Generally no I would say, this is one of the reasons why we read them after all. And Any Human Heart did not conjure up Armadillo or Stars And Bars for me. Its just that the form of Any Human Heart, despite being diary excepts opposed to “memoirs”, is so similar. And the lead character, flawed yet readably avuncular sound so similar.

The problem with a first person novel, or reminiscences/diaries is that the writing should be in character, not just the stories. Perhaps it is unfortunate that both books have their heroes interred one way or another in major conflicts, have them starting in the UK and moving to the US, and getting through a number of wives and affairs. I enjoyed Any Human Heart immensely, but then I loved The New Confessions, and the books were written twelve years apart. As a collection of anecdotes and short stories teased into a long form narrative the form works well, the kind of big book a holiday is made for. But it strikes me that Boyd is too nice a writer to ever really give us a lead who steps out from the shadow of his own author – at least when he writes in this genre.