I’ve not been doing as much reading as I’d like lately, mostly because my thesis is due in two months and I’m trying to cut 10,000 words and organise my (extremely, woefully disorganised) references, both of which are largely horrific experiences. After three and a half years of no PhD-related crises, breakdowns or emotional implosions, I’m now having one at least once a fortnight. It’s great. Also, I seem to have three jobs at the moment. How did this happen?
Anyway, I have been doing some reading, and I figured I’d post a little round-up of what’s ended up on my bedside table over the past month: the good, the better and the terrible and terribly embarrassing.
Most recently, I’ve been reading talented Australian writer Georgia Blain‘s newest book, The Secret Lives of Men, which is a wonderfully compelling collection of short stories about people’s desires, failures and conflicts. Blain has a real talent for exploring what goes on beneath the veneer of ordinary lives; her fiction can make you rearrange the mental fragments of your own past choices and actions to form new shapes and perspectives. In Big Dreams, a struggling novelist encounters a bestselling author of terribly tacky gift books at a Writers’ Society event and is oddly torn between disgust and desire; in The Other Side of the River, a woman makes a choice she knows is wrong, yielding to the temptation of sure disaster, and reflects on the consequences with her daughter 10 years later. The title might refer to men (and, indeed, men are significant in every story, even if their characters often seem to hover at the narrative edges), but the stories are really compelling explorations of the tensions underlying men’s interactions with women, and the subtle but omnipresent currents of longing, lust and uncertainty that ebb beneath our everyday exchanges and encounters. I can honestly say that this is the first short story collection I’ve read consistently, like a novel (i.e. I haven’t read a story, put the book down, and then not picked it up again for another seven months), for as long as I can remember.
Before that, I read Paula McLain‘s The Paris Wife. It’s probably not something I would have picked up had someone in my book club offered to lend it to me; since she has excellent taste in books, I decided to embrace change and give it a go. I’m really glad I did.
The Paris Wife is the story of Ernest Hemingway‘s first wife, Hadley Richardson. I’ve only read one Hemingway novel (under duress as an undergraduate), which I kind of liked, but I’ve never really had a great urge to pick up any more of his books. Although The Paris Wife is obviously fiction, told from Hadley’s perspective, it offers some compelling insights into the kind of man Hemingway was and the fierce convictions that drove his writing. Of course, it’s also a fascinating (and rather sad) exploration of several years in Hadley’s life. She was about seven years older than Hemingway and not a writer or artist herself, and McLain paints her as a somewhat timid and sensible figure, although not without passion and a fondness for knocking back a few drinks. Ultimately, however, she’s perhaps not the kind of person you’d imagine would have been married to Hemingway, particularly not when he was busy hobnobbing with people like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound in the hotbed of intellectual creativity that was 1920s Paris. Hadley’s voice offers an interesting counterpoint to this very bohemian and mythologised setting. While I’ve no doubt that McLain had to use a certain amount of poetic license when she wrote the book, it’s a cleverly crafted piece of fictionalised literary history and an honest portrait of a failed relationship.
Last and definitely least, I indulged my urge for trashy escapism and picked up Jellybird by Lezanne Clannachan, an (alleged) thriller with more holes (plot-wise, logic-wise and interest-wise) than a piece of Belgian lace.
Jessica’s life is vomitously perfect on paper: she’s got a dream job as a jewellery designer and an attentive husband; we’re also treated to several reminders of how skinny Jessica is (sometimes, she just forgets to eat!). When she meets Libby, a fan of her unusual jewellery pieces, she thinks she’s found the kind of close female friendship she’s never experienced before. Unfortunately, Libby acts like she’s straight out of Single White Female (only far less interesting and without the rad nineties hair), but Jessica doesn’t seem to realise this (perhaps she never saw that movie). Only, she kind of does realise it, but continues to be friends with Libby and tell her things that she knows she shouldn’t, because this is a thriller and there’s an OMG YOU TOTES NEVER SAW IT COMING plot twist at stake. It also quickly becomes obvious that Jessica is (conveniently) slightly impaired when it comes to putting two and two together. I don’t want to give anything away (because I’m selling this book so hard right now I know you’re all going to rush out and buy a copy when you finish reading this), but apparently, when the last time you see someone they’re COVERED IN BLOOD, that doesn’t start to seem weird or suspicious until approximately SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER, when you find some old notebook that reminds you of strange and unresolved events from your past. Anyway, there are buried secrets, dark memories, messed up family histories, and all kinds of other things that you’ve never encountered in a thriller before (oh wait…), and despite my bitching I did finish the book, 1. because I’m the kind of retentive person who can’t not finish a novel even if I don’t like it, and 2. because I did kind of want to know what happened. So I guess it wasn’t all bad.
The good news is that my pile of Books to Read continues to grow, and in 10 weeks, when I finally send my thesis off into the ether, I might actually be able to read a few and write a proper review.
Maggie O’Farrell’s fiction unearths the compelling in the everyday: she holds romantic and familial relationships up to the light of psychological scrutiny, examining the complications and repercussions of our connections with loved ones in clear and graceful prose.
O’Farrell’s last couple of novels, The Hand that First Held Mine and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, have traversed great chunks of twentieth century history, from England’s old Edwardian empire to contemporary London. Her latest book, Instructions for a Heatwave, takes us back in time once more, although with much more concentrated focus: just three days during the sweltering English summer of 1976 (before you laugh at the words ‘English summer’ and ‘sweltering’ appearing in the same sentence, it’s true—the country was subject to record temperatures and a severe drought that year). Despite the brevity of the novel’s timeframe, it encapsulates the long and messy history of a family untethered by a mysterious disappearance.
It’s a stiflingly hot and dry morning in July 1976 when elderly Robert Riordan, husband, father and grandfather, walks out to buy the paper and doesn’t come back. His rather formidable Irish wife, Gretta, marshals her resources, phoning the police and summoning her three grown children: Michael Francis, a downtrodden history teacher trying to cope with his failing marriage; Monica, the unhappy middle child who refuses to acknowledge or accept her mistakes; and Aiofe, the troubled youngest of the three, whose bohemian existence as a photographer’s assistant in New York is overshadowed by a secret she won’t admit to anyone.
The stage is set for a fiery domestic drama: as the three siblings converge on the family home, each bringing their own long-fermented brew of prejudices and suspicions, recriminations and sour truths soon emerge. While the children quickly begin to doubt their mother’s adamant claim that she has no idea where Robert has gone, the crisis of his vanishing soon converges with longstanding family feuds and personal problems: after a perceived betrayal three years ago, Monica still refuses to speak to her sister; Michael Francis sifts through the mental wreckage of his relationship with his wife; Aiofe leaves her lover in New York in the wake of a potentially ruinous miscommunication.
Instructions for a Heatwave is driven by its characters—Robert’s disappearance is simply the pin in the family hand grenade of pent-up emotions. Ultimately, this is one of the novel’s (admittedly minor) weaknesses: Robert is such a peripheral figure, so overshadowed by the drama consuming his wife and children, that his disappearance begins to feel suspiciously like a plot device.
But O’Farrell’s other characters compensate for Robert’s weak presence. At the centre of the Riordans is Gretta, an overbearing mother figure with a penchant for ‘tent-size, flower-splotched frocks’ and hoarding useless household goods. She’s at once unassailably unique and painfully familiar—many families, no doubt, have had a Gretta at some stage in their lineage. There’s an element of caricature here, but it works; and because we come to know Gretta through her children—their decades of memories, projections and frustrations—the novel’s central mystery, and its eventual resolution, is all the more intriguing and surprising.
If Gretta isn’t entirely sympathetic, neither are her offspring. Monica is perhaps the book’s most difficult character: deeply unhappy but unable to admit it, she is also the only one who knows how to best handle Gretta, ‘responding immediately and precisely to every mood, every demand’ her mother makes ‘like a sort of external heart valve’. Michael Francis and Aiofe might be easier figures to warm to, but they’re equally as damaged by some of the choices they’ve made and regretted. The dynamic between the three is particularly well rendered—O’Farrell brilliantly captures how readily we can revert to our childhood selves when we return home. Monica is once again the prim and sanctimonious favourite child; Aiofe flounces out of rooms and looks ‘for all the world like the sullen-faced teenager she once was’; Michael Francis is the ineffectual peacemaker.
In the background throughout all of this human drama is the weather: an oppressive, relentless heat that seems to make everyone behave slightly more strangely than usual. O’Farrell was inspired by her memories of the 1976 heatwave—it was, she reflects in the book’s afterword, the summer that ‘really did go on and on’, even causing the government to appoint a Minister for Drought. But the novel progresses, it feels less as though the weather is causing the Riordans’ internal ructions than simply accelerating it; theirs was an implosion waiting to happen, and the unusual strength of England’s sun was just the nudge it needed.
It’s unfortunate that the book’s ending is something of a letdown—the resolution feels too neat and sudden, and jars with the perfectly pitched messy realism of all that precedes it. But Instructions for a Heatwave is still an accomplished exploration of family dynamics, and of how our relationships with parents and siblings can so strongly shape our lives, even without our conscious knowledge. Once again, O’Farrell’s demonstrates her flair at skimming the surface from ordinary lives to reveal the mysteries beneath.
Many women are familiar with the search for the perfect dress; but there’s no dress quite like the one Rose Lovell has made for her in award-winning Australian author Karen Foxlee’s second novel, The Midnight Dress. It’s a dark and enchanting coming-of-age story with a subtle fable-like feel and a lingering undertone of mystery.
Fifteen-year-old Rose and her alcoholic father are drifters, so when they arrive in Leonora, a small North Queensland sugarcane town, Rose isn’t expecting to stay long. Thanks to her father’s itinerant ways, Rose is cynical beyond her years, and generally expects disappointment. But when she enrols in the local high school, she’s powerless to resist the infectious friendliness of Pearl Kelly, who is at once pretty, popular, and genuinely kind.
Pearl convinces Rose that she must take part in the town’s annual Harvest Parade, an event for which all the local girls spend months searching for the perfect dress. For Rose, who is committed to wearing entirely black and furiously pinning down her unruly red curls, the very idea of the Harvest Parade is beyond ridiculous—’I’m not wearing any crummy dress,’ she tells Pearl. But things begin to change—slowly, ineffably—when Pearl suggests that Rose visit Edie Baker, an old seamstress living in a ramshackle house at the foot of the town’s imposing forested mountain. There’s something oddly beguiling about Edie and her rooms full of moulding fabric bolts and moth-eaten dresses; Rose begins visiting every week, helping Edie make her a midnight blue dress and listening to the old woman’s stories of love and mystery.
The book is cleverly split into two timeframes: at the novel’s start, we learn of the disappearance of a girl in a midnight dress on the eve of the town’s Harvest Parade; from there, we move ever so slightly back in time to meet Rose when she arrives in town. Foxlee’s past and future narratives gradually catch up to one another—at the start of each chapter, we’re given another instalment in the search for the missing girl; in the meantime, the novel’s central storyline progresses towards the Harvest Parade, creating a deepening sense of intrigue and foreboding.
Despite its gothic overtones, there’s a wry humour to Foxlee’s work that brings her characters to vivid life; as in her 2008 debut, The Anatomy of Wings, she’s adept at capturing the difficulties and frustrations of adolescence with honesty and wit. Taciturn Rose, who never expected to make a friend in her temporary new home, is bewildered by Pearl’s unerring effervescence–she never stops talking, her thoughts and desires spilling forth in stark contrast to Rose’s tight-lipped emotional caution. ‘I’d love to be marooned and just drink coconut milk and wear a grass skirt,’ Pearl gushes. ‘I can’t wait to travel. I’m going to go away as soon as school is over. I’m going to Russia, first stop, that’s where my father came from. No kidding. I never met him. Not yet. I’m the result of a brief love affair. My father, he’ll recognise me straight away. We’ll be in this crowded railway station. He’ll put out his arms to me. He’ll smell like snow and pine cones.’
Still, there is a profound sadness at the novel’s core: each central character experiences a kind of loss or mourning, from Rose’s fading memories of her mother and deep, unexpressed need for a home to Pearl’s search for her father (knowing that her father’s surname was Orlov, she intends to write to every single Orlov in the Russian phone book in an attempt to locate the correct one). Edie, too, who shares the story of her parents’ tragic marriage with Rose, is viewed with suspicion by many of the locals for her isolated existence; she is a permanent outsider, though it’s a role she ultimately seems to embrace.
The implications of all this gradually become sharper as the mystery unfolds—loss is at the novel’s core, but as we come to understand the story of the girl in the midnight dress, it appears that not all forms of loss are entirely tragic; some are almost necessary, an ultimate means of escape for those who never fit in and perhaps were never intended to.
The Midnight Dress, much like The Anatomy of Wings, is another tale of what lies beneath the surface of apparently ordinary small town lives, often quietly haunted by secrets and dreams that they would never dare express. Foxlee evocatively conveys Leonora’s provincial dullness (‘isn’t it tres boring here?’ Pearl says despairingly to Rose as they wander down Main Street, in which ‘there’s nothing, a few parked cars, four shops, a handful of pubs’), while at the same time creating a beguiling mythical atmosphere. With its steamy heat and relentless rain, and the ‘mysterious green pelt’ and ‘mossy groves and caves and hidden things’ of the imposing mountain that overlooks it, Leonora is as much a place of mystery and magic as any enchanted forest from a childhood book of fairy tales.
When I spotted Rebecca Harrington’s debut novel Penelope on the shelf of my local bookshop, I became (foolishly) very excited and purchased it immediately. Penelope is about a rather awkward Harvard freshman’s first few months of university life. Penelope, with her ‘lank hair’ and odd habit of telling people that she rode in a car seat until she was in fourth grade, expects groundbreaking things from her new life at one of America’s most privileged educational institutions. The reality—full of aggressive nerds, judgemental rich people and socially impaired roommates—is rather more disappointing.
So is Rebecca Harrington’s book. There’s an art to the campus novel, and recent laudable efforts such as Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding and Jennifer Miller’s The Year of the Gadfly are testament to its continued relevance and versatility as a genre. Harrington is Deputy College Editor for the Huffington Post and a Harvard graduate; surely, with these impressive credentials, she should be capable of producing more than Penelope, a stilted, dull, and poorly written attempt to satirise the contemporary college experience.
It’s quickly clear that Penelope isn’t going to win any prizes for social grace: driving to Harvard for the start of the academic year, her mother warns her, ‘don’t be too enthusiastic, don’t talk to people who seem to be getting annoyed, and for heaven’s sake, stop playing Tetris on your phone at parties’. (Even my mother has more tact than this.) Sure enough, Penelope’s first weeks at Harvard bring a series of embarrassments and disappointments: her roommates are awful, her classes are tedious and she can’t seem to make any friends, although an awkward boy named Ted insists on making unwanted advances that Penelope apparently fails to recognise for what they are. (Penelope is extremely obtuse, to a point that goes well beyond comic and strides blithely across the suspension-of-disbelief border). Things start to get interesting (in Penelope’s life, not in the life of anyone actually reading this book) when Penelope meets Gustav, a German-British-sounding man plucked straight from the fiction cliché shelf: he wears tweed and uses terms such as ‘I say’ and ‘chap’. People like this are not real in 2013. I also question whether it is possible to sound both German and British at the same time.
In fairness, it’s not all bad—there are glimmers of talent here. Harrington occasionally comes out with a line or image that sardonically captures what I imagine it must be like to study at a place such as Harvard, surrounded by a mix of odd, brilliant, and/or pretentious minds in the flush of youth and the process of intellectual discovery. Penelope takes a minor role in a campus theatre group’s experimental production of Caligula; during rehearsal, she watches a scene where the two leads are ‘clad in matching bloody tutus and dancing ballet to the recorded sound of barking dogs. It was not one of Penelope’s favourites’. When she tries to join the Harvard literary magazine, she has to critique a short story wherein ‘the main action seemed to involve drinking orange juice and killing a homeless man’; it’s admired by another student as ‘very visceral. The way the orange juice and the killing of the homeless man are on the same level’. There’s a certain disturbing level of familiarity here for anyone who studied literature at university and was forced to extract the most obscure of meanings from the most obtuse of texts.
Fundamentally, however, Penelope—the character and the novel—lacks depth, and the flimsiness of its construction makes it devoid of any true observational power and wit. The mild absurdity of Harrington’s characters and their situations feels forced and dry, as though she took a few stock figures from the archetypal Ivy League college experience and overstretched them to the point of meaningless transparency.
Worst of all is the dialogue, which is so stilted it made my eyes hurt. Also, no one in this novel speaks in contractions: ‘”There is a party at the Ten-Man in Currier tonight.”’ Ted tells Penelope. ‘”Ooh, a party. I have not been to one of those yet.”’ she replies. Really? No one I know talks like this. Especially no one I knew when I was 18 and starting university talked like this. Ever.
Not much happens in Penelope, and its characters are so bland and irritating—I’ll give it to Rebecca Harrington, that’s a difficult feat to pull off—that it becomes very difficult to care about what happens to any of them (which isn’t much) after about page 10. This is a hugely underwhelming first novel, made more so because it could have been an excellent read—the setting and subject matter lend themselves perfectly to a cutting send-up of modern student life. Unfortunately, just like that elective undergrad course you chose because you thought it would be awesome and it turned out to be terrible, Penelope is a slow and tedious disappointment.
I’ve been slack with my book reviews lately, but, in my defence, I have a rock-solid excuse: I’ve been on holiday. Because I spent most of that holiday eating ice cream, buying vintage clothes, and hanging out with my family in LA (as opposed to reading books), blogging kind of slid to the bottom of my to-do list. I’ve forgiven myself and moved on, although I’m still grieving just a little bit for my holiday.
When I came home earlier this month, I wanted a comfort read. I’ve got a new job, and even though I haven’t quit the bookshop, I’m now only working there for three hours on a Sunday afternoon (yeah, someone can’t bear to give up their staff discount). The pressure’s off to read new releases all the time, so, finally, I’ve been able to turn to the groaning shelf of books-not-published-in-the-past-three-months that have been demanding my attention for so long. I found an Aussie YA classic that I picked up in a second-hand bookshop in Canberra last year for $4: Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life by Maureen McCarthy.
McCarthy is something of a legend in the annals of Australian YA, and Queen Kat is possibly her most loved and successful book—it was even turned into a TV miniseries for ABC a few years back. It’s a poignant look at a seminal year in the lives of three seventeen-year-olds from a country town in Victoria: the year they leave home, start uni, and—even though none of them are friends, or even know each other that well—find themselves all living under the same roof.
Katerina is the one who seems to have it all—beautiful, blonde and brainy, it’s her wealthy family’s house in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton that the three girls share. Queen Kat, as she’s wryly (and secretly) nicknamed by her two housemates, seems to settle swiftly into student life, and is rarely at home; occasionally, she puts in an appearance with a glamorous friend or suave male companion. Equally as sure as herself, it appears—though worlds apart in terms of her ambitions and interests—is Jude, the rather fierce and outspoken medical student obsessed with the legacy of her Chilean father, long ago executed in the 1973 military coup in Chile. Then there’s Carmel, a gifted singer who messed up her final exams and missed out on a place at music school. Desperate to escape her family’s crowded farmhouse for the big smoke, she accepts a place on a teaching course in which she has little interest; but her dreams of city life are hampered by her painful self-consciousness and longing to lose weight.
We meet all three girls in Manella, their hometown, at the start of the academic year, the weight of their varying hopes and expectations heavy on their collective shoulders; the book splits into three sections, each narrated by a different protagonist, once the trio move to Melbourne. McCarthy’s structure takes us deep into the inner worlds of these characters as each takes her first fumbling steps into adulthood, and cleverly exposes their perceptions and misconceptions of one another as the year unfolds. While Carmel and Jude quickly become close friends, Katerina remains on the outside; it’s not until the book’s final third, when we finally get Katerina’s side of the story, that we’re privy to the small disasters that have been brewing behind the facade of her apparently perfect life.
You’ll probably have gathered that there’s nothing wildly original here: the sad fat girl who finds her voice (literally and figuratively); the hot-headed idealist who comes to terms with her family’s past; the beauty queen who doesn’t really have it all. But McCarthy does a fine job of drawing us deeply into their very different mental worlds, and exploring a time of life that doesn’t seem to crop up often in YA fiction—the year you leave home, when your expectations of what Life in the Real World is actually like so often fall short of the reality and make you wish for those things you once couldn’t wait to escape.
Having said that, I probably would have appreciated the book more had I liked the characters. Carmel is the easiest to empathise with, and it’s her experience that is likely to be the most resonant for many readers—she embodies that awkward stage of trying to bridge the gap between who you think you are and who you want to be. Jude, with her strident political passions and intense personality, feels less accessible, and the crux of her story is at once anti-climactic and rather far-fetched. Katerina is problematic for the same reasons that Jude and Carmel find her so: she’s a character we’ve all met before, and the situation she finds herself in at the end of her first university year is cliched and hard to sympathise with. (Or maybe I just have a heart of stone…)
Still, I can’t deny that Queen Kat is a gripping book, and just because it doesn’t break any originality awards doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading. Let’s face it, there are certain expectations attached to the coming-of-age genre, and not without good reason. There are, inevitably, particular lessons to be learned and truths to be discovered when you’re seventeen and striking out on your own for the first time; and, as McCarthy’s book goes to show, these same lessons and truths apply no matter where you come from and what dress size you wear.
In the first chapter of James Meek’s dark new novel, The Heart Broke In, he deliberately wrong foots us with a clever sleight of hand: he convinces us that one of his central characters, record producer Richie, is innocent of the morally and legally reprehensible act that his colleagues secretly suspect him of. But by the end of page three, we discover that Richie is not only capable of this act, but performing it on a regular basis.
This sets the scene for a novel in which various other characters perform various other less-than-worthy acts, most of which engender messy and painful consequences. Because of this, The Heart Broke In—while indisputably an assured and vivid piece of fiction—is also a difficult novel to read. Its central characters are so awful that it becomes hard to care about the increasingly compromised positions they find themselves in; although, as Meek’s gradual machinations slot into place and move towards an inevitably catastrophic conclusion, the narrative tension becomes palpable.
The Heart Broke In is a complex web of love and betrayal, played out against a backdrop of contemporary London, and—briefly—malaria-ravaged Tanzania. Its characters are all connected, either by blood or by circumstance: Meek carefully and cunningly plays his cast of siblings, old friends, colleagues and former lovers off against one another in a complex unfurling of deceit and desire that can only end badly for most parties involved.
We begin with the aforementioned Richie, once a rock star, now a wealthy and successful record producer with a curious addiction to chocolate pudding pots and an even curiouser belief in his own (imagined) integrity. It’s a trait that remains elusive to everyone but Richie: by not telling his wife, Karin, about his latest affair, he naively believes that he’s keeping his family safe.
Meanwhile, Richie’s sister, Bec, a gifted scientist working on a Malaria vaccine, has just split up with her boyfriend, the creepily fanatic newspaper mogul Val Oatman. When Bec meets Richie’s old friend and bandmate, Alex, another scientist whose work is apparently on the verge of revealing the secret to eternal life (at least, this is what Alex’s Uncle Harry believes), the two begin a relationship.
The stage is set for catastrophe when Val’s bitterness—and his association with a sinister organisation called the Moral Foundation—prompts him to seek revenge on Bec via Ritchie.
Val’s strategy is both cunning and roundabout, and once we learn of it, the narrative branches out to follow Bec’s story, leaving Ritchie—who must slowly grapple with an increasingly grating moral conundrum—to fade into the narrative background, as his sister and her new partner face their own upheavals. As Bec and Alex’s groundbreaking scientific work propels them into the adoring media spotlight (they are ‘science’s golden couple’, presenting a double-whammy of deadly disease cure and possible eternal youth), their struggle to conceive a child threatens to unbalance their domestic equilibrium. In a masterfully orchestrated parallel of personal moral struggle, Bec, like Ritchie, must ultimately confront the conflict between her desire and her loyalty, and face the consequences of her choice.
This conflict between personal desire and the (alleged) greater moral good propels the narrative action. Meek makes it all the more topical by situating it in the context today’s celebrity-obsessed culture: when Alex is given the opportunity to front a TV series about the genetics of ageing, Bec’s response is cynical: ‘“you won’t be a scientist, you’ll be someone who talks about science,”’ she admonishes him. ‘“It’s as if people think the highest form of anything in this country’s not doing it, it’s going on television and talking about doing it.”’
In the meantime, the sense of altruism that ostensibly fuels Bec’s and Alex’s work—curing a deadly disease, prolonging human life—falls into sharp contrast beside the complications of their own desire for a child, and the fallout it eventually creates.
Alongside this, Meek skilfully weaves the connecting stories of his ambitiously large cast: Alex’s Uncle Harry, sick and dying and convinced that his nephew can cure him; Alex’s brother Dougie, a sad and drifting soul who falls for Bec, and his devoutly religious cousin, Matthew; and, of course, Ritchie, who must make a choice upon which the narrative’s final climax turns. Layers of want and self-preservation cloak each character’s decisions and motivations: no matter who you are and what you do, Meek seems to be saying, the tables can always turn; trust and loyalty are flimsy tightropes that can only take you so far.
The Heart Broke In gives us a tightly knotted chain of intimate actions and reactions, showing how the doubts and desires that pulse beneath our closest relationships shape the trajectories of our lives. It’s an unflattering portrait of human nature, but also an undeniably compelling and accurate one.