The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

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The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Heavy drinking, philandering Patrick receives a teenager's heart: how will this change him? An elegant, thought-provoking look at the root of identity. Highly recommended and a lot better readthan I've made it seem!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1444731064

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Being told that you have six months to live concentrates the mind most wonderfully: fifty is no age to die, even if you have lived life to the full. Patrick's heart was giving up on him and the Professor of American Studies, philanderer and heavy drinker was at the head of the list for a heart transplant. His other problems - entirely of his own making - faded into insignificance. Sixteen-year-old Drew Beamish died in a motorcycle accident in the village where he lived in rural Cambridgeshire and it will be his (still beating) heart which is transplanted into Patrick. The two, who had never met, would be permanently joined.

If Patrick had something of a back story, then Drew's life had not been a completely blank or clean canvas. The family history went back to the Littleport riots (caused by high unemployment and rising grain prices) of 1816 and one of Drew's ancestors was hanged as a result - and his son imprisoned. There's a neat echo down the ages here as Drew's father died only recently of a heart attack, soon after being made redundant - and Drew has been permanently excluded from school. It should never have happened, but a newspaper linked Drew's death and the transplant - and Patrick became intensely curious about the teeenager and his history.

As he recovered he pieced together the story of his heart and found a strange sensation developing - that his old life won't have him. The heart has attained near-mythical status when considering the root of human identity and it would have been easy to turn this into a story of how an aging roué achieved redemption when he received a fresh young heart. But Jill Dawson has given the story a great deal more depth and it pushed my mind into corners long unvisited as I considered what makes a person them. It's a deceptively short and simple read, with a compulsion to keep reading just a little more, but there's a tremendous depth of knowledge behind the story - delving, as it does, into science, education, history and - most strikingly - what it means to live in the Fens.

Dawson's writing is elegant and skilful and she seamlessly blends history, (the Littleport riots and Willie Beamiss, the man who was hanged) the heart-transplant unit at Papworth Hospital with all its procedures and her fictional characters, giving a real feeling of being in the story. Her writing is subtle and very clever, her characters utterly convincing and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more from the Fens we can recommend Ninepins by Rosy Thornton. For another thought-provoking look at transplants have a look at Over My Dead Body by Hazel McHaffie.

Buy The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson at

Buy The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson at


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