Book Review: 'Where My Heart Used to Beat'

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sebastian Faulks. Henry Holt, 333 pp. $27.

I've read enough books in my lifetime that I can form a pretty good idea of a book before going into it. In some cases, the cover design helps mold the tone (I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But I do.) But with "Where My Heart Used to Beat," my preconceived notions were completely off. And this is both good and bad.

I was expecting a portrait-like story, a past-tense love story told in a "remember when ..." sort of way. And, to some extent, there is a love story in these pages. At its heart, however, Faulks uses sessions between a man and his unexpected therapist to help re-live a war, and find closure decades later.

"Where My Heart Used to Beat" is set in 1980s London. Robert Hendricks is a psychiatrist and author who has been dealing with loneliness and depression in part because of his repressed memories of World War II. A neurologist, and World War I vet, sends Robert a letter complimenting him on his work and inviting him to his island off the south of France. With the help of this neurologist -- Dr. Alexander Pereira -- Robert begins to process the memories of his childhood, of his devastating first love, and of the war.

I don't know if I attached to this book the way I was expecting, in part because it is difficult for me to relate to war-focused stories. I wasn't disappointed in this novel -- because there isn't anything to be disappointed about -- but I wasn't zealous for it either. It left me at peace, but not in how I was hoping.

That being said, there's a quality of this novel, and of Faulks' writing, that reminds me of William Boyd's writing. It's picturesque, and I was able to "dig in" to the present-day (1980s) scenes of the story. I imagine someone with a deeper interest in stories of war, or with experience of war, would get a lot more out of this one.

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