Review: The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl

 

Title: The Heart Keeper

Author: Alex Dahl

Published: July 11th 2019, Head of Zeus

Status: July 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

“Hearts are wild creatures, that’s why our ribs are cages.”

The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl is an intensely emotional story of grief, loss and hope.

Devastated by the accidental drowning death of her beloved six year old daughter, Alison reels brokenly between crippling emotional agony and a drug and alcohol induced stupor, unable to accept her loss. When her stepson raises the theory of cellular memory, which suggests that a transplanted organ retains some of the memories or personality traits of the donor that manifest in the recipient, Alison becomes obsessed with the idea that somewhere Amalie lives on…and she wants her back.

“I envision her heart beating in this moment, sutured in place in a little stranger’s chest. I see fresh, clean blood pumped out and around a young body, carrying miniscule particles of my own child. I stand up and press my face to the window. Out there, somewhere, her heart is beating.”

The narrative of The Heart Keeper moves between the first person perspectives of Alison, and Iselin, whose paths cross when Alison seeks out the recipient of her daughters heart, seven year old Kaia. At first Alison believes just a glimpse of her child’s ‘heart keeper’ will ease the ache, but it’s not enough, and she arranges a meeting with Iselin, ostensibly to commission some artwork, which simply feeds her obsession.

“I couldn’t have grasped, then, that it would grow bigger and sharper every day, that it would rot my heart, that it would devour everything that was once good,…”

Alison’s pain is so viscerally described by Dahl, the intensity is difficult to cope with at times. Her slow unraveling is utterly compelling, and though it’s known from the outset the direction the plot will take, Alison’s journey, her longing for her daughter, is what drives the story.

“You and her, you’re one and the same. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this before, that all of this time, you were right there.”

With richly drawn characters and raw emotive writing The Heart Keeper is an engrossing, poignant and heartrending story about death, and life.

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