I have been watching the TV production of William’s Boyd’s Any Human Heart on Blu-ray. For me, it is one of those things that is so well done that it hurts. Not only is it taken from one of William’s Boyd’s best novels, but the acting (from an absurdly good cast) and the production are superb. It is quite long – 6 hours or so – and I have been trying to take it slowly. It is too rich and poignant to rush.
The main plot anchor is the love of the protagonist Logan Mountstuart for his second wife Freya. She and their child are killed in London during the Second World War by a V2 whilst Logan, captured whilst serving as a British Intelligence officer, languishes in a Swiss jail. He has affairs and marriages both before and after Freya, but as he descends into old age and shuffles through his memories, it is this one love of his life which binds everything else together. Richard Dawkins would probably tell us that there are sound evolutionary reasons why this simple thing – the bond between those that the gay community call “breeders” – is the most powerful force in human life because that is what our selfish genes demand. Certainly, the experience of losing it features over and over again in the most compelling literature and music.
I have long thought that the essential path of human achievement is helical. The emotional stuff goes round and round, whilst the technical stuff is linear. I reckon that Blu-ray played through a high definition TV and 5 channel sound system is pretty good, and something like Any Human Heart would not be nearly as immeadiate on my parents’ old black and white TV on which I watched Dr Who as a child. But it will probably come about at some time that the systems are so good that the picture and the sound will be so good as to be indistinguishable from real life by the human eye and the human ear. Will that make the drama yet more powerful? I do not know. Perhaps by that time I will have descended so deeply into old age that I will not even notice.