Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Heart Broke In by James Meek Review


I suppose minor spoilers ahead for anyone planning on reading this, which is, oh, no-one? Thought so. Good choice, everyone! 

Sleazy ex-popstar turned sleazy reality show producer Ritchie Shepherd cheats on his wife with a 15 year old girl (not the first time either) and gets blackmailed by his sister’s jilted lover, newspaper mogul Val Oatman. Ritchie has to give up dirt on his sister Bec or Val will reveal his crime and Ritchie loses it all. 

That sort of sounds like a semi-interesting storyline, doesn’t it – gives the impression of a driving plotline? That’s actually just the frame of this bloated 550 page novel. James Meek’s The Heart Broke In mostly follows the interminably meandering courtship of Alex Comrie, former drummer of Ritchie’s band, and Bec, Ritchie’s sister. The two are scientists who improbably become famous and fall in love. If only Alex and Bec weren’t such ordinary, forgettable protagonists you might not feel the frustratingly plodding pace of the narrative so much! Hundreds and hundreds of pages wasted on these wet-paper-bag characters, my word… 

What annoyed me the most is how irrelevant the majority of this novel is. Chapters wasted on: Alex and his soon-to-be-ex Maria trying to get pregnant; on Bec and her malaria research around the world; Alex’s dying uncle Harry and his tedious final days; a former IRA scumbag turned poet; all of these parts add up to nothing and go on and on. They’re not interesting nor do they contribute anything to the plot that couldn’t have been done in a paragraph or two in passing. 

It’d be good if it felt like Meek was doing something interesting or artful with the material but he’s not. Bec hosts a parasite for a while, foreshadowing her pregnancy later in the book – oh, wonderful, how clever, how… pointless. I think Meek’s trying to say something about morality but I didn’t care about his two-dimensional characters’ choices, I just wanted to see them all blown up with a bazooka.

Meek doesn’t feel like he’s writing anything substantial or about real characters at all. Instead the novel reads like a cheesy contrived soap for pretentious twits who think they’re above Eastenders. This person’s cheating on this person who’s borrowing money and getting into trouble here, who’s sleeping with this person there – is that really it? It is. Very disappointing stuff from a supposedly lofty prize-winning writer.

Then there’s the razor-thin plot that kicked off the novel, revisited some 450-500 pages(!) later and it’s completely nonsensical resolution. Val Oatman, former head of a national gossip rag, lost his mind and got fired, then surreptitiously started up a gossip website called the Moral Foundation. This blog reveals secrets on public figures and apparently it’s got the whole nation’s knickers in a knot. Except… why would a newly started up no-name blog spreading unsubstantiated rumours get so much attention and credibility from everyone? Couldn’t their bullshit – whether real or not – be easily refuted by anyone they’re accusing? The Moral Foundation is not at all believable and yet the whole novel hinges on this retarded detail. 

There’s no story, it’s overlong by several hundred pages, it’s missing a point, a purpose, it’s not at all engaging, and it’s full of dreary, despicable characters. Meek can write competently but his chosen subjects in The Heart Broke In are dealt with in an utterly bloodless, empty and immensely boring style leaving no impression on the reader whatsoever, especially with that terrible ending. 

The Heart Broke In, This Shit Got Out – avoid!

The Heart Broke In

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