The Heart Broke In by James Meek
The Heart Broke In has been described as a neo-nineteenth-century novel. Featuring a large cast of characters and perspectives in the vein of the great Russian writers, it centres on the ripple effect created by individuals and their moral decisions.
This is a story about families and betrayal, genetics and inheritance, sex and responsibility, parasites, cancer, time, birth, death and forgiveness. In fact Philip Pullman’s suggestion of this being a ‘moral thriller’ is spot on.
The story centres on TV producer, ex-rock star and womaniser Ritchie Shepherd and his sister Bec. Ritchie is brilliantly carved out as a revolting, middle-aged man – extremely wealthy with a beautiful wife and mansion, who’s also having sex with the underage talent of his faked-up TV show, Teen Makeover, just because he can. In contrast, Bec is everything her brother isn’t: an idealistic scientist who has devoted her life to finding a vaccine against malaria. She has even gone so far as to infect herself with a parasite that may blind her in the services of her quest.
Bec is also the kind of woman who devotes her time to her job rather than her wealthy newspaper editor boyfriend, Val Oatman. A deranged religious fanatic, Val leaves his job as a result of mental illness and sets up a website called Moral Foundation that publishes allegations against high-profile people, unless they provide salacious details about someone else’s failings.
Val’s desire for revenge against Bec after she refuses to marry him provides a detailed insight into the personal betrayals at the novel’s core. When Ritchie’s affair is revealed to the Moral Foundation, Val offers him a choice: provide some dirt on his sister or be exposed. It’s a moral test on how far Ritchie will go to save his own arse, and Ritchie’s every attempt to make himself feel better about his behaviour drags him deeper into the moral quagmire.
Meek’s intensity and sense of the absurd make this social satire a compelling, bold and scintillating read.
Emily Harms is Readings’ Marketing Manager.