TITLE: THE HEART BROKE IN
AUTHOR: JAMES MEEK
Details: Received from Canongate
Ritchie Shepherd is a former rock star turned television personality with an unhealthy appetite for girls who are much too young even though he is married and has two young children. Because he is very good at lying to himself about himself he doesn’t see anything wrong with what he does:
“He’d discovered that he felt no shame about cheating on Karin until she found out…Karin’s happiness was more important to him than everything. That’s why he would do whatever he could to protect her from the knowledge that he was having sex with someone else.”
Bec Shepherd, Richie’s younger sister is a scientist specialising in defeating malaria, a goal she has halfway accomplished. Still struggling with the death of her father at the hands of terrorists in Northern Ireland when she was a young girl, Bec seems to allow life to happen to her to such an extent that she accepts a marriage proposal just because it takes her by surprise. When she changes her mind and tells newspaper editor Val Oatman that she won’t be marrying him the relatively stable lives of the Shepherds go into free-fall, even if not all of them are aware of it. Val feels betrayed and is on a mission to make the Shepherds pay for the insult he has suffered. And if he destroys the family in the process, all the better.
This is a good book, but I couldn’t call it a pleasant read. This story is intriguing in the same way as a natural disaster will capture your attention. You know that what you are watching is horrible, yet you can’t make yourself look away. Told in sentences that flow beautifully and with words that pull the reader along this is the story of human shortcomings. Pride, selfishness, self-deceit and betrayal feature in this story as normal examples of the human condition. As a result it is hard to like or sympathise with any of the characters in this book. And yet it is equally impossible to completely dislike them; they are too recognisable to be disregarded as outright villains.
This book made me feel slightly uncomfortable while I was reading it, possibly because the theme in this book hits just a little bit too close for comfort. Maybe we recognise ourselves in these people who lie to themselves and those around them in order to keep up an image of themselves that they like rather than reveal the truth of who they really are.
And that is both the problem with and the power of this book. While we would like to think that we are nothing like the characters in this story, the truth is probably that on some level we all lie to ourselves and believe what we tell ourselves. While our ‘sins’ maybe not be of the same gravity as the ones committed by some of the characters in this story, our way of justifying our actions or lack thereof is probably quite similar.
I did find this book a bit too wordy at times. Full description follows full description in this story; surroundings, moods, thoughts, motivations, everything is spelled out and illustrated. I can’t help feeling the story would have captivated me more if there had been less words in it.
Dealing both with today’s obsession with fame and the human knack for self-deception, this is a story of our times, painting a none too flattering but probably all too accurate picture of what it is that motivates us and how that leaves us morally deprived.