When Things Are Alive They Hum

Hannah Bent

When Things Are Alive They Hum
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When Things Are Alive They Hum

Hannah Bent

My hum will be in everything - the wind, the sea, the sand, the air, in you.

Marlowe and Harper share a bond deeper than most sisters, shaped by the loss of their mother in childhood. For Harper, living with what she calls the Up syndrome and gifted with an endless capacity for wonder, Marlowe and she are connected by an invisible thread, like the hum that connects all things. For Marlowe, they are bound by her fierce determination to keep Harper, born with a congenital heart disorder, alive.

Now twenty-five, Marlowe is finally living her own life abroad, pursuing her studies of a rare species of butterfly secure in the knowledge Harper’s happiness is complete, having found love with boyfriend, Louis. But then she receives the devastating call that Harper’s heart is failing. She needs a heart transplant but is denied one by the medical establishment because she is living with a disability. Marlowe rushes to her childhood home in Hong Kong to be by Harper’s side and soon has to answer the question - what lengths would you go to save your sister?

When Things Are Alive They Hum poses profound questions about the nature of love and existence, the ways grief changes us, and how we confront the hand fate has dealt us. Intensely moving, exquisitely written and literally humming with wonder, it is a novel that celebrates life in all its guises, and what comes after.


Friends, I have a treat for you. It is a double debut novel: Ultimo Press, the new publishing house in town, has released its first fiction novel by debut author Hannah Bent titled When Things Are Alive They Hum. It took Bent more than 10 years to write this heartbreaking story. It is not just her story though; it’s one that belongs to all of us who have siblings and understand that this is often the most powerful and painful of relationships.

Sisters Harper and Marlowe are unusually close, but their relationship is complicated by the loss of their mother at a young age, by their cultural heritage and by the condition of Harper’s heart – she needs a transplant. Marlowe returns to Hong Kong to be with her, but the transplant is refused by the medical establishment because Harper has Up syndrome (what Harper and Marlowe call Down syndrome). Told in alternating perspectives between the sisters, we become privy to their thoughts, their anguish, and their pure delight for each other. Harper needs everything that Marlowe can give her, and it is that journey that forms the basis of this novel. This is a story centred on the concepts of obligation and love. Consequently, it is also a story of sacrifice and pathos.

If you enjoy reading the books of Jodi Picoult or Maggie O’Farrell because they ask tough questions that have a certain moral compass, then When Things Are Alive They Hum is for you. If you need a wee sob, then this novel has come at the right time. If you want to be reminded that your family is not the only one that is complicated, then settle in. There’s a lot to discuss.

Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.

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