by Maylis Kerangal
I know, I know, it’s been forever since I’ve written a book review. I haven’t stopped reading, it’s just the writing that’s been hard to carve out time for. That said, I had to come and tell you about this book, because I can’t get it out of my head.
When I moved with my family up to the Pacific Northwest early this year, I started a new book club (because I can’t imagine life without a book club). I chose The Heart as our book for August, having stumbled across a synopsis of it somewhere – I can’t even remember where. I was intrigued because the title leads one to believe it’s a romance novel (of which I am not a fan), but the synopsis made clear that it’s as far from romance as you can get. Or rather, it’s not the sort of romance most romance novels are about. This is no saccharine love story about boy meets girl – no. This is a love story of a different kind: a love story about the human heart – the actual muscle and tissue and blood version of the human heart – and its ability and sheer power to give and sustain life.
The novel opens in the early dawn hours on the shores of a beach somewhere in France as three boys, barely adults, tumble out of a van, don wetsuits, and head out to the sea with surfboards under their arms. On their way home a couple of hours later, exhausted from surfing, the young man driving falls asleep at the wheel. Two of the boys survive the ensuing collision, but nineteen-year-old Simon Limbres is pronounced brain-dead at the hospital, having been thrown through the windshield of the van head first upon impact with the pole.
Yet, his heart still beats.
The story takes place over a mere twenty-four hour period, which stretches out into eternity as Simon’s family is notified, and terrible decisions must be made. Simon is dead, but his body still has the ability to give life to other people in desperate need of organ transplants. And time is of the essence.
The Heart reads with the grace and fluidity of a ballet. Gorgeous prose, taut and intense, every word purposeful and deliberate. Every person in the story, from Simon himself, to his parents, to the doctors and nurses involved in the procedures that take place, is presented with his or her own story, background, thoughts, emotions, and observations, so that we understand the absolute human element in the extraordinary events that take place. This is a beautiful, haunting story written with astonishing clarity and reverence for life, for death, and for grief.
This book is going to stay with me for a very long time.