contemporary fiction

What I Read: The Heart Broke In

So, sometimes I do choose a book by its cover. When I saw this beauty on display in my local public library, I couldn’t help but pick it up.

The plot seemed interesting, so even though it was quite long, I decided to bring it home and try to read it.

A little bit about the plot from Goodreads:

“From James Meek, the award-winning author of the international bestseller The People’s Act of Love, comes a rich and intricate novel about everything that matters to us now: children, celebrity, secrets and shame, the quest for youth, loyalty and betrayal, falls from grace, acts of terror, and the wonderful, terrible inescapability of family.

Ritchie Shepherd, an aging pop star and a producer of a reality show for teen talent, is starting to trip over his own lies. Maybe filming a documentary about his father, Captain Shepherd, a British soldier executed by Northern Irish guerrillas, will redeem him.

His sister, Bec, is getting closer and closer to a vaccine for malaria. When she’s not in Tanzania harvesting field samples, she’s peering through a microscope at her own blood to chart the risky treatment she’s testing on herself. She’s as addicted to honesty as Ritchie is to trickery.

Val Oatman is the editor of a powerful tabloid newspaper. The self-appointed conscience of the nation, scourge of hypocrites and cheats, he believes he will marry beautiful Bec.

Alex Comrie, a gene therapist (and formerly the drummer in Ritchie’s band), is battling his mortally ill uncle, a brilliant and domineering scientist, over whether Alex might actually have discovered a cure for aging. Alex, too, believes he will marry Bec.

Colum O’Donabháin has just been released from prison, having served a twenty-five-year sentence for putting a gun to Captain Shepherd’s head when he refused to give up an informer. He now writes poetry.

Their stories meet and tangle in this bighearted epic that is also shrewd, starkly funny, and utterly of the moment. The Heart Broke In is fiction with the reverberating resonance of truth.”

 

A lot going on, right?? Well let me tell you a little bit about my experience reading this book. I have a really bad habit of reading the first 50-75 pages of a book and then abandoning it if it doesn’t immediately catch my interest. I figure, if I’m not enjoying something, why bother continuing? I almost did not finish this one. It did not immediately catch me. As I was about to abandon it, my good friend Alixe was visiting and she told me that she always finishes her books no matter what, because “if they’re bad I want to know for sure that they’re really bad,” or something like that. So I decided to challenge myself to keep going with this and finish. And you know what? I’m glad I did.

All of these very different people are somehow connected through the tangled webs that are weaved in social structures. This book shows both the good side of humanity and the bad. People do incredibly good things, and people do incredibly terrible things. There are plot elements that deal with music, science, the IRA and poetry, but mostly it is a book about friendships and relationships. There is one moment where a character makes a decision to do something to help her family, that may seem morally wrong to most people, but it makes you sit and question, how do we define what is right and what is wrong? Who is the decider? And it makes you realize that people have a lot of secrets. Not just in books, but in everyday life people make decisions and do things that are hard choices, ones that they don’t necessarily share with the world.

I don’t usually read contemporary fiction, and I find long books daunting, so this over 400-page tome was a challenge, but a good one. It helped that the chapters were short. I don’t think I will be rushing to pick up James Meek’s other novel, but I’m glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in order to finish The Heart Broke In.

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