A Heart Bent Out of Shape by Emylia Hall

17321333I loved Emylia Hall’s first novel, The Book of Summers, so I was always going to be looking out for more of her writing, but I suspect that a lovely title, a beautiful cover, and an intriguing title would have pulled me into this, her second novel, even if I’d had no idea who she was.

This is Hadley’s story. She was in her first year at university, still living at home, and shed had a smooth passage through life. She was bright, she was pretty, she was bookish and she came from a happy family. But she was beginning to realise how much the world had to offer, and she seized the chance of a year studying in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

Hadley was captivated by the city, by the student community,  by the books she was studying; and she formed a close friendship with Kristina, a Danish student who was just a little more sophisticated than her.

The early part of the story was quiet and uneventful, but it was lovely. Emylia Hall writes beautifully and she brought the city to life. I saw the people, the places, the lake, the mountains; I saw everything  so clearly through Hadley’s eyes. And I felt her curiosity, her excitement, her realisation that life was full of possibilities.

I loved the friendship between Hadley and Kristina; I loved Hadley’s chats with an elderly writer she met on her first night in the city, they were a lovely counterpoint to the main storyline; and I loved the way she fell in love with the books she read as she studied the lost generation.

Hadley was  devastated when Kristina was killed, in an accident that seemed quite inexplicable. As she struggles to cope with the first loss of her life she realises just how alone she is, without her family and so far away from home. Looking for support, she leans on her American literature professor. He helps her to uncover the events that led to Kristina’s death, and they become close; maybe too close …

The story was simple, and a little predictable, but that really didn’t matter, because it was emotionally pitch-perfect. Hadley’s complecx emotions; her friends’ reactions; her parents response, when she tells then what happened. They were all caught beautifully, but I was particularly taken with Hadley’s parents, who loved her, who wanted to protect her, but who knew it was time for her to grow up.

That might be because I’m from their generation, and I suspect that this book might speak more profoundly to readers nearer Hadley’s age.

But that’s not to say that I didn’t find many things to love. I loved the way I was transported to a city I’d never visited and that I now feel I know do well. I loved the way I was reminded of what it was like to be part of a group of students, at that wonderful point in life. And I loved watching Hadley learn and grow.

I’m inclined to call ‘A Heart Bent Out of Shape’ a lovely light read, with serious underpinnings …..

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