Review: The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal

Sometimes it’s the simplest stories that pack the biggest punch. The Heart, the latest novel from French author Maylis de Kerangal, packs a wallop. There’s just one thing that happens in this book: a heart transplant, moving “the black box of a twenty-year-old” from one body to another. However de Kerangal also tells the story of every hand that connects with the heart on its journey, from the boy’s first girlfriend to his grieving parents to his nurses, resulting in a work so moving, so richly layered it strikes you less like an object and more like something divine – like the heart itself.

The boy at the center of it all is Simon Limbres, a young man in love with surfing, his friends, and his newly acquired sense of independence. All the players treat Limbres’ donated heart with the upmost awe and respect, and de Kerangal pays that same homage each character, diving deep into their simple lives, revealing their anxieties, their gifts, their flaws and hopes. Limbres’ heart becomes more than a gift from one person to another, but a gift filled with the connections and good wishes of all those who came in contact with it.

But it’s not just the unusual format that makes this novel so remarkable: it’s the spot-on rhythm of de Kerangal’s sentences. They build like the swelling of Limbres’ beloved sea, the steadiness of a pulse, and she directs all this rhythm like a seasoned conductor, through the cacophony of the first movement about the death and loss, into the rising swells of the hopeful second act. There is a new feeling when the heart begins its journey to its next home: “a general acceleration at all levels…an influx of electricity into people’s brains, an injection of energy into their bodies – otherwise known as hope.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say de Kerangal has written a masterpiece, a stunning feat on par with modern medicine, the love of a parent, a second chance at life.