Review: The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal {Translated by Sam Taylor}


Title: The Heart

Author: Maylis de Kerangal  Translated by Sam Taylor

Published: February 9th 2016, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Status: Read February 2016, courtesy Macmillan



My Thoughts:

I selected this novel for the Read Around the World Challenge, The Heart is the work of French author Maylis de Kerangel translated into English by Sam Taylor.

Three young men are on their way home from an early morning surf when they are involved in a devastating accident. Simon Limbres is thrown through the windscreen, and is declared brain dead, though his heart is still beating.

Set over the next 24 hours, The Heart illuminates Simon’s journey between life and death. As Simon’s parents, Marianne and Sean, try to come to grips with their nightmarish reality, we are given a window into the lives of those with whom he intersects, from that of the Coordinating Committee for Organ and Tissue Removal who must broach the delicate subject of donation, to Claire, who is waiting for a miracle.

Kerangal’s writing is at times quite exquisite, however I often struggled with the style of prose. With page long sentences, a complete lack of speech marks, and sometimes an odd rhythm, I thought that the translation may have played a part, but I’m assured that it is faithful to the original (Sam Taylor won an award for it).

I believe strongly in the value of organ donation. I’m a registered donor and actively encourage family and friends to be also, so I feel that The Heart bears an important message.

“Simon’s heart was migrating to one part of the country, his kidneys, liver, and lungs entering other regions, rushing toward other bodies. What would remain, in this fragmentation, of the unity of her son? How could she attach her singular memory to that diffracted body? What will become of his presence, of his reflection on earth, of his ghost? These questions circle her like fiery hoops, and then Simon’s face forms before her eyes, intact and unique. He is irreducible; he is Simon. She feels a deep sense of calm.”

For the literary high-minded, The Heart will likely draw praise, but I’m afraid for most of us, myself included, the authors stylistic quirks will be too off-putting to truly appreciate it.



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Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman


Title: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

Author: Fredrik Backman

Published: Atria Books June 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 14 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

For all it made me feel, I declared Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove my favourite book of 2014 and My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry is now my favourite of 2015.

Elsa is an improbably precocious but utterly adorable seven year old girl who loves her grandmother, Harry Potter and Wikipedia, in that order. Bullied at school, Granny is Elsa’s best and only friend, her guide to the Land-of-Almost-Awake, a dreamscape of fairy tales, magic and adventure that comforts them both when life is difficult, and her very own superhero.

She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different – look at superheroes.”

Just before Granny dies she presses an envelope into Elsa’s hand, and asks her granddaughter to deliver a letter.

“Give the letter to him who’s waiting. He won’t want to accept it, but tell him it’s from me. Tell him your granny sends her regards and says she’s sorry”

And so begins Elsa’s adventure, part quest, part treasure hunt, part superhero mission, Granny’s letter leads Elsa first to the door of a wurse, and then The Monster (also known as Wolfheart), another letter leads her to the Sea-Witch and yet another much later to the Princess of Miploris. With each letter, offering apologies and regrets, Elsa unravels the truth about the fairy tales that form the foundation of the Land-of-Almost-Awake, and the secrets of her grandmother’s exceptional life.

“Elsa doesn’t know if this means that Granny took all her stories from the real world and placed them in Miamas, or if the stories from Miamas became so real that the creatures came across to the real world. But the Land-of-Almost-Awake and her house are obviously merging.”

In My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Backman weaves a creative tapestry of the ordinary together with the extraordinary. Characters that are real, flawed yet magnificent, or as Granny puts it,

“no one is entirely a sh*t and almost no one is entirely not a sh*t”.

It tells a story that is both wise and insightful, absurd and wondrous as it explores the themes of grief, love, difference, connection, regrets and forgiveness.

Funny, moving, heartfelt and inspiring, it made me laugh and cry.
Not five stars but ten… at least!


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Review: Brenner and God by Wolf Haas

Title: Brenner and God {Detective Simon Brenner #7}

Author: Wolf Haas (translated by Annie Janusch)

Published: Melville International Crime June 2012

Synopsis: In this episode, Brenner—forced out of the police force—tries to get away from detective work by taking a job as the personal chauffeur for two-year-old Helena, the daughter of a Munich construction giant and a Viennese abortion doctor. One day, while Brenner’s attention is turned to picking out a chocolate bar for Helena at a gas station, Helena gets snatched from the car. Abruptly out of a job, Brenner decides to investigate her disappearance on his own. With both parents in the public eye, there’s no scarcity of leads—the father’s latest development project has spurred public protest, and the mother’s clinic has been targeted by the zealous leader of an anti-abortion group. Brenner and God is told with a dark humor that leaves no character, including Brenner, unscathed. Haas tells the story of a fallible hero who can be indecisive and world-weary, baffled and disillusioned by what he finds, but who presses forward nonetheless out of a stubborn sense of decency—a two-year-old is kidnapped, so you find her, because that’s just what you do

Status: Read from June 17 to 18, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Melville House /NetGalley}

My Thoughts:

Brenner and God is the first of Wolf Haas’s Detective Simon Brenner series to be translated from German to English, though it is the seventh book in the series. It seems like an odd place to begin, but I doubt any one would guess.
It was the premise that piqued my interest, introducing Brenner, once a police detective, now a personal chauffeur for a two year old girl, Helena. When Helena goes missing from the limousine while Brenner sips espresso in the service station, it is assumed that she has been kidnapped. The police suspect Brenner is involved, but her parents, a doctor who provides abortions and a construction and property developer giant, have plenty of enemies. When there is no ransom demand, or a body, Brenner decides to investigate the child’s disappearance only to find himself mired in a cesspit of lies, betrayal and murder.

Told in the first person by an omniscient narrator who is never introduced, intermittently addresses the reader directly as well as interjecting opinion, information and judgement, Brenner and God has one of the most unusual styles of narration I have encountered. The effect is initially bewildering and I am not sure I ever quite got used to the quirky voice, even though I admired the author’s unique approach.

Brenner is a cynic with an emerging pill habit and a history of ignoring authority. Despite being warned off becoming involved in the investigation he refuses to step back from the case, driven not only by his sense of guilt but also his belief in doing the right thing. Under suspicion is an anti abortionist campaigner and a cabal of business heavyweights, but even as bodies begin to fall, Brenner doesn’t get any closer to finding Helena and finds himself, literally in the sh*t.

I did enjoy Brenner and God, it’s entertaining and clever with an appealing protagonist. This is a book for fans of noir detective fiction looking for something unusual and edgy.

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