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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A big novel of sibling rivalry that delivers
Meek came to my attention with his strange but wonderful Booker longlisted novel, The People's Act Of Love which was set in 1919 Siberia and featured a strange religious cult and a sociopathic escaped prisoner - I loved it. The Heart Broke In is totally different in setting, but does have more of Meek's enigmatic writing...

The Heart Broke In tackles the...
Published on 6 Nov. 2012 by Annabel Gaskell

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still not sure what to make of it
I finished this a few days ago and still can't quite make up my mind. On the postive side - it's a good read and you do want to keep turning the pages. But what is it? It's full of caricatures, rather than real characters. It's funny but it's not a black comedy. I think it's problem is that it wants to be taken seriously as a 'moral thriller', as Philip Pullman says on...
Published 17 months ago by David


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A big novel of sibling rivalry that delivers, 6 Nov. 2012
By 
Annabel Gaskell "gaskella2" (Nr Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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Meek came to my attention with his strange but wonderful Booker longlisted novel, The People's Act Of Love which was set in 1919 Siberia and featured a strange religious cult and a sociopathic escaped prisoner - I loved it. The Heart Broke In is totally different in setting, but does have more of Meek's enigmatic writing...

The Heart Broke In tackles the subject of sibling rivalry, primarily seen through the eyes of Ritchie Shepherd, a rock star turned TV producer, and his sister Bec a malaria researcher. Sibling rivalry might sound a small theme, but this is a big novel, and Meek takes an expansive as well as microscopic examination of the lives of Ritchie and Bec by looking through the lens of love and betrayal...

Ritchie used to be guitarist in a rock'n'roll band, Lazygods, together with his wife Karin. Now, they live in a big house with their two lovely children, and Ritchie the successful producer of an X-Factor for teens style show. Apart from production troubles, there's a hotly denied rumour going around that Ritchie has been seeing a fifteen year old. Very sad, very rock'n'roll, very of the zeitgeist. You just know that it will come back to bite him eventually.

Whilst Ritchie's life is constrained by family and job, his younger sister Bec has no such ties now. She was going out with Val, the Editor of a red-top newspaper, but when he got too serious she called it off. A medical researcher, she's a free spirit, going where her work takes her. Then she makes a discovery - finding a microscopic parasite that gives partial immunity to malaria. She infects herself - only trouble is that uncontrolled, the parasite causes spells of temporary blindness. Bec compounds her medical success by falling in love with Alex - a medical researcher making breakthroughs in stem cell treatments for cancer. Alex just happens to have been the drummer in Ritchie's first band - he still drums his fingers all the time, 'as an elaborate form of fidgeting, it helped him think.'

Science's golden couple make big news, eclipsing Ritchie, who's also taken aback by finding out that it was Karin the fans worshipped in the Lazygods. Alex has family problems of his own, he works for his Uncle Harry who is dying of cancer, and Harry is leaving everything to Alex, rather than his own son Matt who is too God-fearing for him, and this is complicated by the arrival of his layabout brother Dougie down from Glasgow on the scene. Meanwhile, Alex is desperate for a baby with Bec, and it's just not happening. It builds up so there are just too many secrets, lies and barriers to communication in Ritchie and Bec's families. The dam is going to break and they are forced to choose between love and betrayal.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Bec - she was mesmerising as a character, serene, slightly aloof in a good way, independent, and then there was the whole self-experimentation thing - foolhardy or brave? A bit of both, I'd wager. The science could have got quite difficult, but Meek has a light touch with it and although I'm not a biologist, it all felt very authentic and well-researched. The personality of Ritchie too, despite all his faults, is sympathetically drawn. He is on the verge of a mid-life crisis at the beginning of the book, and you do want to find out what's going to happen. Schadefreude, yes, but also hope that he can pull himself together.

There is a huge amount more to the brother and sister relationship - what happened to their father in particular, and Alex's family too, that I've not mentioned above. The dynamics are complicated - and reminded me somewhat of The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale, which also has a science and TV background and explores complex emotions. Both books are solid and totally gripping, full of moral dilemmas. I really enjoyed this novel. It's a big read in all senses. (9/10)
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Heart, 23 Aug. 2012
By 
Sukie (South Coast) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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This is a big novel both physically (over 500 pages) and in terms of content. Meek isn't afraid to tackle difficult subjects - science v religion, the cost that comes with success, betrayal and forgiveness, sibling rivalry, parenthood, love, ethics... - but maintains a light touch with such heavyweight topics so that the book is always readable and fascinating.

Bec and Ritchie are the central characters - brother and sister who couldn't be more different. Former rock star and TV producer Ritchie's star might just be on the wane and he is desperate to keep hold of all the trappings of fame he has acquired - the luxury home he shares with his wife and children, his money and status. Yet with a media storm poised to break about his fifteen-year-old lover, he's on the brink of losing everything.

Bec, meanwhile, is a scientist whose research has led to a breakthrough in the quest for a malaria vaccine. She's the light side to Ritchie's darkness, yet she might just have made herself a dangerous enemy who is out for revenge.

Both characters are well-drawn and convincing, as are the minor characters that populate the story. Meek seems incredibly knowledgable about the science world, as well as TV production/media, and I was completely drawn in to the action.
I wasn't expecting this to be such a witty novel but there are moments of real comedy genius, and some brilliant asides that show what a sharp, smart writer Meek is. I loved legendary scientist Harry meeting the dogwear-designer for instance - just a wonderful set-up. Also Ritchie's hope that his young son is a school bully so that other children will fear him in the playground - such a warped hope for one's child speaks volumes about Ritchie's state of mind.

If I have a criticism it's that the book felt a bit flabby in the middle, and perhaps the plot could have been tighter here. But overall, this is a great read, very well-written, posing lots of interesting questions, and it's a book I'd recommend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stupendous Novel of Conscience, Humour and Betrayal., 11 July 2013
By 
Tommy Dooley "Tom" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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Meet Ritchie Shepherd an ex rock musician of questionable merit who used to front erstwhile chart toppers `the Lazygods'. He has now re-invented himself as a TV presenter for `Teen Makeover' which is one of those talent show competition type things, the only proviso is they have to be teenagers, which is right up his alley as he has a thing for young girls; a very big thing for very young girls that is.

His sister Bec is a malaria researcher who has taken her calling very seriously indeed even being self infected with a newly discovered parasite to see if it is a cure all. She has just turned down a marriage proposal to a very powerful newspaper editor, who is slightly twisted to put it mildly and takes up with one of Ritchie's old band mates Alex. He is a bit of a medical research wiz too following the footsteps of his much loved uncle Henry who is hilarious by the way. He thinks he has stumbled across a process that may actually be able to challenge ageing and is hailed as the wunder child of the medical world, so his getting together with Bec seems like a match made in heaven.

The problem is Bec's ex lover has dirt on everyone and after a bit of a wig out sets up a blackmailing web site where in order to be let off the hook you have to dish the smut on someone close to you - a sort of Wiki - backstab type thing. The thing is how far would you go to protect your self if they had the dirt on you?

I absolutely loved this; it is funny, well written engaging, inventive and highly original. Praised by Louis De Bernieres author of `Captain Correli's Mandolin', which has to be high praise indeed. This is the sort of book that would make for a great TV adaptation, but I think you may lose some of the story in the richness of the text which is both accessible and high quality making this an absolute gem of a read. Can not recommend highly enough, one to read again and again and tell your friends about - James Meek has written literary gold.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still not sure what to make of it, 27 Jan. 2014
By 
David (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Paperback)
I finished this a few days ago and still can't quite make up my mind. On the postive side - it's a good read and you do want to keep turning the pages. But what is it? It's full of caricatures, rather than real characters. It's funny but it's not a black comedy. I think it's problem is that it wants to be taken seriously as a 'moral thriller', as Philip Pullman says on the cover, but it doesn't quite make it. Comparisons to Dickens are completely OTT. Dickens could get away with characters who are almost caricatures of types of people, because he made them real and you believed in them. You can't do that with Meek's cast - engaging and amusing though some of them are. The morality is too simplistic - too stark, too black and white. Real morality is much more complex and real people are just, well more real than this set of collection of rather superficial characters. It would have been better done as black comedy. It almost makes it: Richie - the talent show slimeball; Bec - Miss Goodietwoshoes; Alex - the scientist with a touch of Aspergers; and Val the hypocritical News of the World-style moralistic editor.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I don't get it, 22 Feb. 2014
By 
elsie purdon "reads too much" (dorset uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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Newspaper reviews for this novel have included quotes such as "Dickensian characters" and "Dostoevskyan intensity".
So I had high hopes.
I disliked the main character immediately, as the reader is supposed to, a nasty, sleazy ex-rock star Richie, who currently a TV presenter with a thing for under age girls. Gross.
His sister Bec is the "good" sibling. She's a scientist trying to find an immunisation programme for Malaria, but she has made a dangerous enemy and that person wants revenge via Ritchie. As the novel proceeds her actions become more complex, is anybody just all good or all bad?
She does something that might be morally bad, but she does it for a "good" reason. Perhaps? She's not sure and I don't care.
I found Meek's writing too brief, and slick. I wanted the writing to be more detailed, the characters more complex , more rounded out.
I couldn't believe enough in the charters and I became annoyed and frustrated.
I didn't like the people, I didn't care about them and the writing left too many plot holes. I kept wondering if I had missed something, perhaps left a page out.
In the end I just didn't really want to read the book. it feels like a waste of my time. I write this certain that another person will love it to bits. It's all a matter of taste and this book and the author's writing are not mine.
I think it is too clever, too shallow and misses out the heart of people and the real life that goes on. I just can't find it in this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, very forgettable - 3.5 stars, 15 May 2014
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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'The story doing the rounds at Ritchie Shepherd's production company was accurate when it appeared inside the staff's heads, when they hardly sensed it, let alone spoke it. It was like a slight stink, clear enough to note, too trivial to mention.'

The novel begins with the unlikeable Ritchie, who is suspected of cheating on his wife once again - by a group of his employees. The opening chapter is a little clumsy in its style, lumping the group with the same thoughts and then letting us know that Ritchie is having an affair with a not quite sixteen year old, a young person that he is clearly using his position of power to seduce... so far, so topical.

At the heart of the novel is the relationship Ritchie has with his sister, Bec. They are chalk and cheese, light and dark. He is sleazy, she is a malaria researcher. It's a long novel and Meek uses a number of points of view and, for this reader, loses narrative drive because of that. He poses moral dilemmas and his characters seek their own resolution to those dilemmas. If the characters were more believable then I would have been more involved in the outcomes, as Meek deals with interesting themes.

For me, this not in the same class as The Heart Broke in or We are Now Beginning Our Descent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Betrayals, 2 Sept. 2012
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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Ritchie is a former rock star turned TV producer, living in luxury with his wife and children. His sister Bec, by contrast, is not interested in fame or money, devoting her life to finding a cure for malaria. The assured opening of "The Heart Broke In" concerns the rumour that Ritchie is having an affair with an underage girl. Ritchie would do anything to keep this affair secret, even if it means committing a terrible act of betrayal.

Ritchie is a brilliant character, self-regarding, selfish, and self-justifying, and Meek skillfully allows the reader to feel his despair whilst fervently wishing he gets his come-uppance. Ritchie is resentful of his 'saintly' sister, but Bec is a complicated character with her own moral struggles. The siblings are just two of the book's large ensemble cast, all of whom are vividly drawn as they weave in and out of each other's lives.

At times I thought that Meek hammered home his themes and foreshadowings with a bit of a heavy hand, but nevertheless
"The Heart Broke In" is a well-written and enjoyable read with a great love story at its core. Philip Pullman has said of this novel, 'I suppose we could call it a moral thriller.', and this seems an apt description. The last 100 pages especially are absolutely riveting as events come to a head, raising hard questions about revenge, justice, and human weakness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Breadth and credibility, 27 May 2014
This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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I’m a convert to James Meek. He really has been in rooms with former IRA terrorists and with malaria researchers. This is a novel that credibly walks you into different conversations round the world. When he describes a tabloid editor going mad, you feel he knows whereof he speaks. When we watch a mother burying her child dead of malaria in Africa, there are small details.

This reminds me of Margaret Drabble at her best in the 1980s – when she was writing State of England novels that stretched further afield. This one catches the arc of science in flux, and ranges from Papua New Guinea to Tanzania to London. Malaria vaccines that ‘half work’ are the news of the moment – even two years after this novel was written – so Meek is up there with what will be trending. It catches the arc of rock music in flux too – the inspired and the mediocre. It touches a raw nerve in its use of media – the Moral Foundation blackmailing the vulnerable to dish the dirt on other celebrities, and on people the media have tried to ‘celebritise’ who were just getting on with their lives. It poses the challenge of religion – when a fundamentalist Christian family has no real answer to a daughter who switches her allegiance to Islam for its clearer sense of right and wrong and for a young man, and when family values mean falling out with the grandfather of your children.

He has been accused of writing ‘restrained and over-analytic characters’ – that are not sufficiently flesh and blood. But this novel gets into the heart of scientists obsessed by their work and into the dubious morality of mediocre celebrity.

It has been described a’ moral thriller’. It is certainly about notions of right and wrong. It is about revenge and about forgiveness. It is about the right way to live one’s life, and about different meanings of family loyalty and disloyalty, family versus doctrine, and perhaps family wins out in the end. It addresses concerns which are not simply world stage – the headlines of scientific breakthrough and celebrity disgrace – but more essential, how people die, how they get into debt, what women will do to have a child.

You identify with both the heroes and the villains – even if not with the walk-on baddies. Meek is not afraid of multiple perspectives – the narrator with a god’s eye view. You want to find out what happens at the end and for good and bad, sister and brother, both to make it through. I won’t tell you what happens.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Betrayal - one of the darkest concepts, 19 April 2013
By 
Lost John (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Hardcover)
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James Meek has put a huge amount into this 550 page novel; including, it seems, something of his own Scottish and London experiences, and much research into single-cell life forms, malaria, cancer and more. Besides various places in London, the Home Counties, Dorset and Scotland, we visit Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and (in each case, briefly) Cardiff, Dublin and San Francisco. We learn something of independent production of documentaries and entertainment series for TV.

But none of that is what the novel is 'about'. That is much more a matter of human relationships; ambition, noble and ignoble; struggle with, and sometimes against, standards set by others; absolutes such as loyalty to marriage partners, family, children and comrades in arms; and the antithesis of loyalty, betrayal. The back cover of the book asks, "Would you betray someone you love to give them what they want?" The answer, you think - even several hundred pages into the book - is no. Then James Meek comes up with a situation where an entirely decent person perhaps might.

There are some good lines in the book - "the gnawing, competitive hedonism of London"; "He looked like an old conscript, the kind of old man who gets called up when a war is almost lost"; "Ritchie waited for several heartbeats" (i.e. using heartbeats as a measure of time); "He died, not frightened but pre-occupied, busy in the act of trying to change his mind". There is a whole paragraph (p 205) on the river of money that flows through London, "a sediment of macerated currency washed off the cash mountains of Eurasia"; and James Meek clearly doesn't find The Shard any more aesthetically attractive than I do.

James Meek is good too on self-deception: Ritchie's mother had moved to Spain, afterwards persuading herself - with help from a British tabloid newspaper circulating there - that she had been forced into exile by the aspects of British society, real and imagined, that British tabloids daily deplore; whilst Ritchie, a faded pop star who moved into TV light entertainment, had convinced himself that his various changes of artistic direction were a matter of personal choice, made whilst producers and critics were still urging him to continue as he was.

After reading a blockbuster such as this, one that takes us through more experiences, more exotic locations, more moral quandaries, and quite as many difficult situations as most people go through in a lifetime, we ought to feel we have been on an emotional rollercoaster ride but that the overall effect is positive and that we have gained at least a little more wisdom. The novel may work like that for others, but for me it didn't.

One problem area is that none of the many players is sufficiently attractive for us to root for them. That, despite several of them having a lot going for them, and virtually all having at least some redeeming features. Try a simple test: sexual relationships apart - which in novels at least tend to be transitory - how many of them have good, longstanding friends who can be relied on to stand by them even after they make big mistakes? Family members not excluded.

Or maybe that's an unfair question: with loyalty like that there would be no betrayal.

It's a six-and-a half out of ten novel for me, so to round that up to four stars is generous. Most of my four star novels would be well ahead of this on my list of recommended reads.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good but uncomfortable read about human failings, 17 Mar. 2013
By 
Marleen (Cavan, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Heart Broke In (Paperback)
I received this book from Canongate through Nudge.

Ritchie Shepherd is a former rock star turned television personality with an unhealthy appetite for girls who are much too young even though he is married and has two young children. Because he is very good at lying to himself about himself he doesn't see anything wrong with what he does:

"He'd discovered that he felt no same about cheating on Karin until she found out...Karin's happiness was more important to him than everything. That's why he would do whatever he could to protect her from the knowledge that he was having sex with someone else."

Bec Shepherd, Richie's younger sister is a scientist specialising in defeating malaria, a goal she has halfway accomplished. Still struggling with the death of her father at the hands of terrorists in Northern Ireland when she was a young girl, Bec seems to allow life to happen to her to such an extend that she accepts a marriage proposal just because it takes her by surprise. When she changes her mind and tells newspaper editor Val Oatman that she won't be marrying him the relatively stable lives of the Shepherds go into freefall, even if not all of them are aware of it. Val feels betrayed and is on a mission to make the Shepherds pay for the insult he has suffered. And if he destroys the family in the process, all the better.

This is a good book, but I couldn't call it a pleasant read. This story is intriguing in the same way as a natural disaster will capture your attention. You know that what you are watching is horrible, yet you can't make yourself look away. Told in sentences that flow beautifully and with words that pull the reader along this is the story of human shortcomings. Pride, selfishness, self-deceit and betrayal feature in this story as normal examples of the human condition. As a result it is hard to like or sympathise with any of the characters in this book. And yet it is equally impossible to completely dislike them; they are too recognisable to be disregarded as outright villains.

This book made me feel slightly uncomfortable while I was reading it, possibly because the theme in this book is just a little bit too close for comfort. Maybe we recognise ourselves in these people who lie to themselves and those around them in order to keep up an image of themselves that they like rather than reveal the truth of who they really are.

And that is both the problem with and the power of this book. While we would like to think that we are nothing like the characters in this story, the truth is probably that on some level we all lie to ourselves and believe what we tell ourselves. While our `sins' maybe not be of the same gravity as the ones committed by some of the characters in this story, our way of justifying our actions or lack thereof is probably quite similar.

I did find this book a bit too wordy at times. Full description follows full description in this story; surroundings, moods, thoughts, motivations, everything is spelled out and illustrated. I can't help feeling the story would have captivated me more if there had been less words in it.

Dealing both with today's obsession with fame and the human knack for self-deception, this is a story of our times, painting a none too flattering but probably all too accurate picture of what it is that motivates us and how that leaves us morally deprived.
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The Heart Broke In
The Heart Broke In by James Meek (Hardcover - 30 Aug. 2012)
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