Book Reviews

The Heart by Maylis De Kerangal

the heart“The thing about Simon Limbres’s heart, this human heart, is that, since the moment of his birth, when its rhythm accelerated, as did the other hearts around it, in celebration of the event, the thing is, that this heart, which made him jump, vomit, grow, dance lightly like a feather or weigh heavy as a stone, which made him dizzy with exhilaration and made him melt with love, which filtered, recorded, archived-the black box of a twenty-year-old body-the thing is that nobody really knows it; only a moving image created by ultrasound could echo its sound and shape, could make visible the joy that dilates it and the sadness that tightens it; only the paper trace of an electrocardiogram, set in motion at the very beginning, could draw the shape, describe the exertion, the quickening emotion, the prodigious energy needed to contract almost a hundred thousand times a day, to pump nearly ten pints of blood every minute, yes, only that graph could tell a story, by outlining the life of ebbs and flows, of gates and valves, a life of beats-for, while Simon Limbres’s heart, this human heart, is too much even for the machines, no one could claim to really know it, and that night, that starless and bone-splitting cold night on the estuary and in the Pays de Caux, as a lightless swell rolled all along the cliffs, as the continental shelf retreated, revealing its geological bands, there could be heard the regular rhythm of a resting organ, a muscle that was slowly recharging, a pulse of probably less than fifty beats per minute, and a cell-phone signal translated into the luminescent digits of the touchscreen-05:50-and suddenly everything raced out of control.”

That is the opening line of The Heart by Maylis De Kerangal, translated by Sam Taylor. How’s that for memorable first lines to a novel? Why did I include it? If you thought it was a long winded, run-on sentence, then it’s best you not pick up this book because about 90% of the story is written in the same way. And no dialogue or quotes.

To be honest, I almost didn’t finish it several times because of the writing style. It reads like poetry and I struggle with poetry. But I’m so glad that I slowed down and pushed myself through this short novel (only 242 pages). The writing is absolutely stunning. I’ve never read anything like this before, the subject matter, the writing style…I really have nothing to compare it to. It’s not a quick read, I found, and once I let the words unfold without trying to race to the end of the novel, I found myself wanting to pick it up at every turn.

The story is about a heart and all the people involved. Starting with a young surfer named Simon who gets into a car accident with friends and has fatal injuries. France is different than the US in that a person is presumed an organ donor unless a refusal is made. The perspectives of his parents, the surgeons, the transplant advocate, nurses, Simon’s girlfriend and the recipient all have a voice in this story.

Each character was developed so fully, I felt like I would know them and many times found myself holding my breath while each one was going through the life changing ordeal that lasted twenty-four hours.

I wonder if the original novel published in France (a bit hit there) in 2014 reads the same as the translation. Regardless, it’s one I won’t forget anytime soon and might just make it onto my favorites for 2016 for stylistic and originality reasons.

The Heart by Maylis De Kerangal, translated by Sam Taylor was published in the US on February 9th, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I found a copy at my public library. 

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2 thoughts on “The Heart by Maylis De Kerangal

  1. I love writing like this and I’m happy to hear it ended up a winner for you as this one has been on my wish list for a while now. Thanks for the push!

  2. Sounds fascinating! Thanks for the review! I usually stick to known stylistics and genres, but you’re right, sometimes pushing ourselves out from the comfort zone brings treasures like this. I also found myself recently racing to the end of the books I’m reading, now I’m working on slowing down and enjoying them more, some books just need time.

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