William Boyd (2002) Any Human Heart.

william boyd pic.jpg

Sometimes we get caught up in hype and say things like Any Human Heart is ‘unforgettable’. But I’d forgotten I’d already read this book. There was something vaguely familiar about The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart (LMS) 1906-1991 when the reader is told he dies of a heart attack and on his tombstone has chiselled Escritor, Writer, Ecrivain.

It’s the bit in between those two dates that interest us and LMS has a Zelig like ability to span continents and mix with all the great writers and artists of the day, for example, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group in London. He kisses Evelyn Waugh at an Oxford soiree. The latter grabs his groin, but LMS might have been like Waugh, a former public school boy but now decidedly is practicing heterosexual sex with his best friend’s girlfriend. He meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joyce and Hemingway in Paris and, later, the exiled American during the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso gives LMS a sketch, which he later sells to make good the final days of his former lover that was there on the page with him. He hobnobs with royalty and shows how spiteful, treacherous and miserly the Duke of Westminster and Mrs Simpson really were (as expected).

LMS was an art dealer in New York when the avant-garde painters were selling canvases for crazy money and poets such as Frank O’Hara were emerging, with bitterness and wit and not enough money.

LMS married for the third and last time in New York. The entry for June 1957 has him meeting with his psychiatrist Byrne and he asked:

what persuasion he was – Freudian, Jungian, Reichian, whatever. None of the above, he said. I’m basically a good old-fashioned S&M man. S&M? Sex and Money. He explained: in his experience, if you were not clinically ill – like a schizophrenic or a manic depressive – then 99 per cent of his patients’ neuroses were generated by either sex or money, or both.

LMS proves the case in point, fleeing New York for his London flat after having sex with, ‘Monday,’  a sixteen or seventeen-year-old minor who passed herself off as being his dead son’s grieving girlfriend and aged 19 or 20, one of which proved to be true enough for a statutory rape charge.

LMS saw man walking on the moon, he poetically stepped outside to look rather than watching it on television and got involved as reporter in the Biafran War.

And surreally he found himself involved and carrying sticks of dynamite in a suitcase filled with old clothes for the Baader-Meinhoff gang. These are the bits of the book I remembered, finally.

The wisdom of the fictional man is on the page, a remembrance of reader to reader or writer to writer. After fleeing Britain after Thatcher is elected (foreseeing the offering up of the poor to the rich) he flees to the French countryside to squeeze in one more doomed love and offers a guide to style and life while trying to write a work of fiction, Octet. The entry between 1986-1988:

Reading Nabokov’s Ada, an intermittently brilliant but baffling book – an idee fixe on the rampage, leaving readers stunned and exhausted behind. I have to say as an admirer of style – a loaded word, but actually best thought of as a synonym for individuality – VN’s mannered artfulness, his refusal to let a sleeping word lie, becomes more and more like a nervous tic, than a natural, individual voice, however fruity and sonorous. The studied opulence, the ornament for the sake of ornament, grows wearing, and one longs for a simple, elegant discursive sentence. This is the key difference: in good prose precision must always triumph over decoration.

LMS’s journal in Any Human Heart achieves that individuality, that style and the voice is one you believe in.  As an avid reader (with a poor memory) William Boyd is indeed a great artist. Let’s not forget that there is nothing baffling about this book but its brilliance.

 

Channel 4, 9pm, The Paedophile Next Door.

woodsman

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-paedophile-next-door/on-demand/57601-001

Historian Steve Humphries narrates and produced this programme. Going back thirty years to a conversation I had with a girl named Joyce who had big tits, I was quite keen on that kind of thing in those days, long eyelashes which she batted at me when she spoke, and she was now I come to think of it, more and more, quite pretty, but we never actually did it, not that I didn’t want to, I was also very keen on that kind of things in those days, in fact more than keen, but I was also a trifle shy, and less keen on her top lip that seemed to have some kind of fuzz growing like a bone above it, what would I think? what would other people think, if they’d known? but having established my non-paedophilic and perfectly natural tendencies to shyness and big tits, I told her that all paedophiles should have their nobs ripped off. She said it was a power thing, being a busty bustling woman, she was always right, but I was also right. This programme ostensibly looks at the two sides of the argument, the nob rippers and a more educational approach to paedophilic tendencies.

Establishing a baseline is often difficult. Think of Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Dodgson) innocent (?) obsession with a young girl that led to the creation of Alice in Wonderland, or Vladimir Nabokov’s sexually charged Lolita. The former is the good paedophile, who does not act on his incipient sexual attraction, the former an active fictional paedophile, whose only regret is his love grows up and he no longer loves or is attracted to her. Somewhere in between these two is Kevin Bacon, footloose, and charging around as a convicted paedophile in the 2004 film The Woodsman in an effort at atonement, and to help capture other rogue paedophiles. He was lauded for his courage in taking such a role. The message is they’re out there, which is the wrong message. Paedophiles are inside the building. They’ve always been inside the building, inside with us, squirming to get out, and they are not always male.

Jon Brown from the NSPCC estimates that 70%-80% of paedophilic crimes are committed by family or extended family members. Size matters. An adult can simply pick up a child and do with him or her what he wants. In this programme Sarah talked about her father’s dirty little secret. Jane Godley Handstands in the Dark (http://www.abctales.com/blog/celticman/janey-godley-2005-handstands-dark)   tells the reader about the way these things work. Ian McFadyen, in the programme (and also writing for the Observer) tells us how paedophilia is outsources beyond the family to institutions acting in loco parentis and this extends in particular to children’s’ homes such as  the one Sarah was moved to after her father’s sexual abuse, where she was also abused by members of staff. A double betrayal of faith. We could go on to the Westminster scandal involving the likes of Liberal MP Cyril Smith who was investigated by allowed to retain his position in the Commons and M15 notes sent to newspaper editors prohibiting them from publishing accounts of links with a local children’s home. Papers implicating other MPs and well-known figures were conveniently lost.  In sum, child abuse is classless, but the wealthier are far better at hiding the trail.

The aptly names Dr Sarah Goode claims an epidemic of child sexual abuse: one in four girls can expect to be abused before they are sixteen and one in eight boys. Every case destroys a child’s hopes and dreams and distorts their life. But there is no way of knowing, little or no empirical evidence to support Goode’s claims. Paedophiles remain hidden. They only seem to surface when some teacher or scout leader is caught with some incriminating evidence in his hard drive.

The programme offered the usual talking heads, such as retired inspector Jonathon Taylor, who dealt with child pornography in the 1990s, and his counterpart today, who logged into chatrooms under the alias of a thirteen-year-old girl. I admit I was shocked here. I’ve a vague idea of what a chatroom is, but it seems a stupid idea and waste of time, but any grown men entering such rooms must be suspect and I was back in my cut their bollacks off mindset. In general I don’t envy Taylor or his counterparts. I could not or would not want to watch video images of children being tortured for any reason. Whatever they are being paid should be double, tripled, quadrupled immediately. They do that hard job, the rest of society would rather not look at.

The programme offers the viewer something new and something old. Eddie agreed to be interviewed on camera. He has no criminal convictions, but admits he is attracted to children as young as four-years old. He also admits to being sexually attracted to grown woman. So this is not an either or choice beloved of our filmmakers. It helps explain why most paedophiles are married, but alas, doesn’t really explain why they’re all scout leaders, or headmasters. I admire Eddie for being upfront about his feelings, but I wouldn’t want him for a friend and I would never trust him to babysit. (That was a joke).

The something new model unveiled in the programme is normalisation and treatment. Adverts from Germany were shown.  People like Eddie who outed themselves would be treated not condemned. This is the same model Dr Sarah Goode advocated and lost her academic tenure over. In Californian prisons they offer both solutions. Convicted paedophiles are treated, but never let out. It’s easier and cheaper in these cost conscious times to go back to my conversation thirty years ago and suggest cutting people’s balls off. The truth is we don’t want treatment, we want punishment and we want it to hurt. How much is a pair of pliers?

 

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole