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 …..

What’s in a Name Challenge: Done!

Four years ago “What’s in a Name” was the very first challenge I signed up for via this blog. It was also the first challenge I completed.

It’s a lovely challenge, and of course I signed up for a second year. A third. And a fourth.

Thanks must go to Beth at Beth Fish Reads for acting as host once again.

I scanned my shelves for six books, with titles each of six categories.  And then I read them.

  • A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title:

In The Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

  • A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title:

The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

  • A book with a creepy crawly in the title:

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

  • A book with a type of house in the title:

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

  • A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title:

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

  • A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title:

The Fortnight in September by R C Sheriff

It’s not the list I planned at the end of last year, but I’ve read six lovely books, and I am so pleased that I remembered to read ‘The Fortnight in September’ in September!

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

“As the years passed, and I strengthened my resolve, my childhood fell to time. And I drew a lid on it, as one might the contents of an old chest, pushed to the corner of an attic.”

All week I’ve been carrying The Book of Summers with me, and opening it whenever I could so that I could be transported into another world.

First there was London, where thirty-year old Beth worked in an art gallery and lived a quiet life. The details of her world, her life, her situation were so well drawn that I was pulled in straight away.

Beth’s equilibrium was disturbed by a visit from her father. They had been close when she was a child and he was bringing her up alone, she remembered that well, and yet they had drifted apart and their relationship had become strangely formal.

He brought a package that had arrived for his daughter. A package from Hungary, where for seven summers Beth had visited the mother who had left when she was still an infant.

Beth didn’t want to open the package; she and her mother had been estranged since her last visit, when she was sixteen years-old; she didn’t want to revisit the past. But she had to, she had to know what was in the package, why it had been sent.

And so it was that Beth opened The Book of Summers, the record that her mother had kept of those seven visits.

She sat in Victoria Park with the book, and as she read she relived those seven summers. And I relived them with her, completely transported to other times and places.

I saw cool, damp Devon and warm, dry Hungary. I saw an old-fashioned, undemonstrative father and a warm, outgoing mother. I saw a quite day-to-day routine in Devon, and  holiday fun in Hungary. And I saw Beth begin to grow up; a coming of age, very nearly.

It’s a slow story, a little short on plot but long on wonderful descriptions, well drawn characters, real emotions, and intriguing details, that bring the child and her world to life wonderfully well.

The child’s perspective is held perfectly, but there was also space that allowed me to see how she had been affected by her family circumstances and things  changed from one visit to the next.

I was completely caught up in Beth’s life, I was always aware that something must go wrong, that something must have happened for there to have been such a long estrangement.

Something did go wrong, and I understood Beth’s reaction and her behaviour completely. I wasn’t quite as convinced about how her family had dealt with certain things in the past, but in the end I decided that though it was unlikely it was possible. People sometimes do some very foolish things.

And then I was swept away, to an ending that was bittersweet and exactly right.

This is a lovely debut novel, and it would suit leisurely reading on a warm summer day very, very well …