More and more I find that when I read a contemporary novel, particularly one set in middle-class London, I struggle to care because I find the characters so unpleasant and self-absorbed. The Heart Broke In had potential to be just one of those spoilt middle-class numbers, and does open with the introduction of a thoroughly vile individual. Fortunately though, with its observations on the nature of love, loyalty, self-preservation and immortality, this book manages to be much more than another trawl through the tribulations of an Islington set.
Ritchie is a faded pop star who now produces a successful teen talent TV show. He’s also partial to a bit of under-age action behind his wife’s back, despite the moral and legal implications. His sister Bec is a scientist who may have found a vaccine for malaria, and as the book opens is dating Val, the editor of a scandal-sheet newspaper. Alex is following in the footsteps of his scientist uncle, and is on the cusp of fame as he is feted for discovering a ‘cure’ for aging. The plot revolves around this group as they fall in and out of love, trust and betray the wrong people, and make some life-changing decisions.
Meek has a real gift for putting sentences together. That sounds sarcastic, but he really does. Towards the end of the book, as one couple’s relationship is under more and more strain, he writes a passage describing how you’re never alone in a relationship, it’s never just the two of you, you always have company:
‘It might be Excitement, capering all over the bed in a spangled leotard, it might be the corpse of Love lying on the floor in a pool of blood, it might be the matronly Domesticity clacking her knitting needles in the corner, it might be the pale clerk of Boredom examining his nails by the window.’
Which I think is just gorgeous. Unfortunately he also has a habit of attributing preposterously navel-gazing, self-absorbed and existential thoughts to characters in a way that rarely rings true. It’s this over-articulation that hamstrings an otherwise enjoyable novel, which is a real shame.