Feb 9, 2017

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal

Maylis de Kerangal is a French writer who has won many awards for her work, but only two of her novels have been translated into English: The Heart (Mend the Living) and The Birth of a Bridge. My mom brought me the Finnish translation of The Heart and said: "You have to read this!" That's usually a good sign so I dove right in and fell in love with the book from the first page. (In Finnish the name is translated as Bury the Dead, Patch up the Living, by the way. I tried to find more translations, but I think this is the only one of de Kerangal's books that's been translated into Finnish so far.)

The Heart tells the story of a heart transplant from the accident that leaves young surfer Simon brain-dead to the surgery where the heart is transplanted into another's chest. On the way de Kerangal dips into the minds of the grieving parents, the doctors and nurses, and the heart's recipient. The novel is a great example of how the much-maligned third person omniscient point of view is sometimes the best choice for a narrative. I can't imagine this book written in any other way; the voice of the author permeates the novel, ebbs and flows in breathless, rolling sentences while still revealing a deeply moving study of the characters and their emotions. This is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, and one of the saddest. I'd love to reread it in French, but because of the subject matter I feel like I need to give myself some time before I can do that.

I also loved the way de Kerangal uses free association in her descriptions, like in the journey of the heart to the hospital for the transplant. This yields many unique and beautiful passages that you want to read over and over again. I'm definitely going to try this technique for one of my own stories. (Yay, new writer tricks!)

I haven't read the English translation, but I highly recommend the book. I'm going to pick up one of her other books and try to read it in the original language and I'll definitely try the French edition at some point.

Here's a link to her Wikipedia page if you want to check out her other titles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maylis_de_Kerangal

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