Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Where My Heart Used to Beat

Title:  Where My Heart Used to Beat
Author:  Sebastian Faulks
Publication Information:  Henry Holt and Co. 2016. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0805097325 / 978-0805097320

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "With its free peanuts and anonymity, the airline lounge is somewhere I can usually feel at home; but on this occasion I was in too much of a panic to enjoy its self-importance."

Favorite Quote:  "How many men were there ... like him? People who could draw on what they knew, on what they'd seen - on what they'd read - to rise to the occasion ... There was something about the way he accepted the circumstances of our rat existence in the marsh. He didn't rail against it; he submitted to the absurdity that fate ... had handed us ... He would never stop believing in .... the possibility of a normal world."

Robert Hendricks is an expert in his field of psychiatry and a published author. He is also very much alone. He receives an invitation from a stranger who lives on a secluded island off the coast of France. Dr. Alexander Periera claims to be a fan of Robert's work and a war buddy of his father's. Robert's acceptance of Dr. Periera's invitation to visit sets him on a journey through his own memories of the past.

This book meanders through a life but does not really end up with a conclusion or a thread to draw it all together. What makes it an even more challenging read is that it does so without a sense of chronology in its meanderings. Different moments in Robert's past and present simply mingle together, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. The time periods I identified - childhood memories of his father, school & college days, the war, his initial career, and present day. Actually, I am not sure that is all, but I find myself distracted trying to keep track of the myriad directions in which the story drifts. Perhaps, these are the defining moments of Robert's life, but trying to follow them all simultaneously reduces the sense of importance that any one has.

Two moments in the book seem to stand out, but not for the right reasons. I cannot see the purpose they serve. Unfortunately, the first chapter is one, and that sets a tone for the entire book. Why does this book begin with a casual sexual encounter with a prostitute whose number he randomly finds in a phone booth? Second, why are the encounters with Celine on the island highlighted for them to develop into nothing in the story? These two aspects don't add to the story except to make the main character less likable and less interesting to follow.

The two connections central to the plot are Robert's connection with the mysterious "L" during the war and the connection started by Dr. Alexander Periera's letter. "L" is described as the love of his life, but as that story concludes, my reaction is, "That's it?" The entire love story is less than I expected. It is also less significant to the book than I expected. This book is more about a man trying to make sense of his life, and this love affair is one part of that.

Dr. Periera's connection comes because he served with Robert's father during the war, but when they meet, he is much more interested in Robert's life than in sharing his memories. Why? That piece seems missing. Why does Dr. Periera reach out? What is his interest in Robert? Also, the way that connection is made seems improbable. Dr. Periera says he found Robert because of his unusual last name - Hendricks.  Is that really such an unusual name? The entire premise does not seem believable

The most compelling aspect of the book is the descriptions of the war in the trenches. Both the physical and psychological impacts are described. The physical descriptions come through Robert's first person narration, and give a sense of the horror and the mundane in a soldier's life. The psychological impacts are developed through other characters, but the pieces of the puzzle are too spread out and presented too matter-of-factly to have the emotional impact.

This book has potential. Unfortunately, I spend most of it waiting for more, and it doesn't quite come together in a compelling story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for stopping by. I am glad you enjoyed the review. Have you read the book or are you planning to? I would love to hear what you thought about the book.