Book review: The Heart by French author Maylis de Kerangal

The Heart

by French author Maylis de Kerangal translated by Sam Taylor

Thump. Thump. Thump.  In 24 hours, this heart will belong to another human being. The 19 year old teenager who owned it has been announced brain dead and his distraught and shocked parents are giving up his organs.  Simon Limbres and his three friends were surfing at dawn at Le Havre, and his friend Chris fell asleep at the wheel.  Simon was the only one with no seat belt and went head first through the windshield.  His brain is dying as they wheel him into the hospital.

As we experience the dying of young Simon Limbres’s brain as he lays on a ventilator in ICU, we meet the people -including his parents and the parents of the other two boys who survived-and, subsequently, each hospital personnel who touches Simon and/or the recipients of his heart.  We subsume ourselves in each of their realities as one by one, they appear, a second of a life, lives, and the hopes and dreads in their hearts.  We meet them face to face as they meet death and pursue life. This book tells a miraculous journey in prose that dilutes nothing, that races like an arrhythmic heart itself to begin another life in another body.  You cannot imagine how good this novel is.  You cannot imagine, until you read it. And then you will pick it up again, as you remain crying or hopeful.

The magnificence of The Heart by French author Maylis de Kerangal (beautifully translated by Sam Taylor) is in its depth.  Kerangal’s prose is objective and distanced, sometimes journalistically, as when she describes the medical processes; and then it veers into stream of consciousness with such detail that we feel and touch each person that this heart comes in contact with.  As Simon’s 19 year old heart travels from his brain dead body to Marianne, the 51 year old woman who receives it, we hear the heart as it pumps within prose that quivers, and is alive.  Metaphorically, the rhythm of the prose monitors the rhythm of the live heart as it transports from one dead being to another who will live from it; the names of the characters are also interesting.  Genesis is alluded to from their names, which are Biblical.  And what starts as science intertwines with human philosophy while remaining real.  We become each characters as Kerangal places us inside their hearts, what matters most to each person, a nurse, a doctor, a surgeon, organ transplant specialist.  When Thomas Remige, the transplant nurse who coordinates the organ removal through transplant thinks of his heart, he thinks of his goldfinch who can sing beautifully.  For Remige is a talented singer, and in the final scenes he sings Simon’s body to rest after the organs are gone.  As we meet every character, every person we meet their hearts.

So simply and majestically beautiful is this novel – I have no words to really sum its multidimensional, realistic and metaphorical contingencies together.  It beats like Simon’s heart, only it is more than just a pump.  It is life itself.

Review by Broad “A” 

We received a product to facilitate our review. All opinions are our own


  • You can pick up this book on here: The Heart: A Novel or at a bookseller near you.


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