- Book: The Heart Keeper
- Location: Oslo
- Author: Alex Dahl
Alison and Sindre have lost their 5 year old daughter, Amalie, in an accident. She drowned at a local lake whilst in Alison’s care.
This is a portrayal of a marriage and family in crisis after such a devastating event and how, without conventional anchors – reasoning and thinking – obsessive thoughts can embed in the consciousness and drive everything and everyone to the edge.
Alison is just about keeping it together as she struggles to come to terms with her loss. Such an event naturally impacts hugely on the couple relationship and the author strikingly details the progression and stress points in nuanced and reflexive prose. At the end of the book the author acknowledges that she too has suffered a great deal of trauma with one of her children and just by the characters’ responses you can tell that she writes with conviction and heartfelt genuineness.
Little Amalie’s heart has been donated to another child, Kaia, who lives with her mother Iselin on the outskirts of Oslo. These are two families conjoined by an anonymous bond, by a heart that has been gifted from one person to another. The two families are very much from different sides of the wealth spectrum.
Gradually, however it is clear that Alison is mentally and emotionally unravelling; she is really struggling to cope and alights upon a plan that would bring her closer to her dead child. A relationship of some kind with the recipient family seems to her somehow feasible. At first it is understandable and her research into who the donor family might be is something she needs to do. Her initial reasoning after the death were that Amalie’s heart was giving new life to someone else, but now she realises, the tables have turned. that someone else is giving new to life to Amalie….
Alison is particularly struck by the phenomenon of cellular memory – there seems to be evidence that recipients take on personality traits of the donor. In Kaia she perhaps can see something of Amalie and this thought fuels her obsession to connect in any way she can with her flesh and blood daughter.
Of course, this is a curious phenomenon, whether there is any justification for it is not known. Alison has lost all sense of perspective and it is her obsessive quest, assisted by alcohol and growing depression, that builds the storyline, culminating in a heart stopping conclusion (!).
I did wonder about the premise of a very dead child, drowned, being in a position to donate the heart to another very sick child. Generally I understand a heart still needs to be beating for it to be a viable transplant… poor little Amalie sounded well dead by the time she was found. No matter. This is a well crafted, thoughtful and gripping read.