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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 22 months ago 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 7 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
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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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 (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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1 of 1 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 Sep 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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious but not quite hitting the spot, 22 Sep 2012
By 
emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Heart Broke in (Hardcover)
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There is loads to admire about James Meek's writing and I have loved it since I read an early short story of his about the devil trying to tempt a woman who has renounced material things. However The Heart Broke In takes as its subject matter something rather more 'ordinary': a brother and sister, one a tv producer, the other a malaria researcher. She's going out with a newspaper boss, and after he proposes, decides to break things off. This one apparently 'fair-enough' act brings about much of the drama and action of the book.

In some ways the structure reminded me of Measure for Measure. There's this notion of a 'good' sister and an arguably 'bad' brother, and the fact of their being tempted by power structures and by a manipulator who wants the sister's sexual complicity.

However, I felt quite a lot of disappointment reading it. I absolutely adored Meek's previous novel, We are Now Beginning Our Descent which I found stunning, accomplished and beautifully written. Perhaps I just failed to warm to Ritchie, the TV producer, enough to care about his fate; or Bec, who seems occasionally hilarious (wonderful bit when she goes to stay with some sexually overactive bird researchers) but never really made me love her.

But aside from 'liking' characters I felt the novel had a bigger problem to do with the last half, so I would urge anyone who doesn't want plot spoilers to stop reading NOW. In particular the Moral Foundation, exposing celebrity hypocrisy but run by a nutcase, just seemed like something out of a slightly over the top Midsomer Murders. Or a fairy tale? The novel seemed to cross here into the realm of magic realism - that jump is confusing. So overall, an ambitious book that tries to speak about Britain today, but for me ultimately quite disappointing. Won't stop me reading the next thing he writes though!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An opportunity missed...., 12 May 2013
A poor novel. It started so well: a wealthy,vain "celeb" who has done something awful, and doesn't want his family to know; an amoral gutter-press editor who is blackmailing him...And then it all goes wrong. The characters with whom one is supposed to sympathise are unutterably limp, and unfortunately they take up most of the plot. I found myself flicking forwards through the pages to see when one of the "baddies" would next appear...Val, Ritchie or Dougie. After wading through page after page of sub Sixth-form philosophy, I really wanted this to finish. The "moral" characters just waffled their way through; the "immoral" ones simply faded out of the plot. I was really only interested in what happened to Val and Dougie, but they disappeared without trace.

Shame. I was hooked from page one; the initial conceit of the novel is excellent; will or won't the wife of the faded pop star, who is now doing well in lowest common denominator TV shows, find out about the dodgy secret mobile phone and fifteen-year-old "bit on the side" ? Well, I was soon unhooked, fewer than a hundred pages later, when the full cast of paper-thin characters was wheeled on. Especially the Science versus Religion stuff. Neither the scientists nor the Christians were credible. (I'm an atheist, but I know quite a few Christians, none of whom are as insipid or credulous as those portrayed here).

"A Dickensian cast (Observer)" according to the back of my copy. I think not. Charlie with his scratchy pen could have done more with these characters on one ink-splattered sheet of foolscap than Mr. Meek has managed in the whole of this bloated novel.
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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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The Heart Broke in
The Heart Broke in by James Meek (Hardcover - 30 Aug 2012)
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