Where My Heart Used to Beat

Where My Heart Used to Beat

Title: Where My Heart Used to Beat

Author: Sebastian Faulks

Review by Jennifer Thomas

The annual Remembrance Day commemoration seems a fitting time to finish reading Sebastian Faulk’s latest novel, Where My Heart Used to Beat. This story sees Faulks revisit familiar themes of the mind, mental health, love and loss against the harrowing backdrop of war; in this tale, the First and Second.

The novel begins in New York in 1980 and we encounter Doctor Robert Hendricks, the narrator of the story, a lonely Englishman returning to London from a trip to New York, back to his solitary existence, ‘an habitué of loneliness’. Faulks wastes no time in getting the story started. Doctor Hendricks is trying to make sense of his life and his past, and even though he is a ‘practising psychiatrist’ and published author on the subject, cannot fathom his own life or truly understand himself. A letter arrives from France from an unknown Dr Alexander Pereira, a neurologist who tells Hendricks that he has read his work and had also served with his long dead father on the Western Front; a father Hendricks had never known and whose absence had been keenly felt in his childhood and life. Pereira invites Hendricks to visit him in France; to assess him for the role of literary executor of his estate and to give Hendricks information about his unknown father.

Chronicle of life

Where My Heart Used to Beat

‘A powerful eulogy to love, loss and the devastation of war.’

What follows is a chronicle of Hendricks life; his childhood and village schooling, life with his mother and her reluctance to send her son to the grammar school, with his eventual departure after she has been ‘shamed into agreeing’. We follow Hendricks’ educational progress, undergraduate life and chosen profession, psychiatry. This chronicle is comprehensive and it is through dialogue with Dr Pereira on Hendricks’ visits to the island that we learn not only of the course of his father’s life but also that of his own, and his wartime experiences.

Hendricks revisits these experiences in great detail and like Birdsong and Charlotte Gray before, Faulks’ description of the 1944 Anzio landings is a powerful evocation of the brutal tragedy of war and the fractured minds and bodies it leaves in its wake. This theme of mental health and sanity is debated in detail; Hendricks and Pereira discuss neurology, psychiatry and the ‘soul’, as well as the history of mental health treatment and what makes up ‘human consciousness.’ Easier to follow than Faulks’ previous novel on the subject, Human Traces, nevertheless these questions are arguably too big to be answered in a novel already dealing with love, war, loss and a tragic past.

It is in Hendricks’ past where we learn of his one true love; its loss and lifelong impact. The blissful wartime romance he shared with the enigmatic Luisa and its abrupt ending scars Hendricks for life. His life is consigned to one of being ‘utterly alone’, punctuated with meaningless encounters and unsatisfactory relationships. Just like many never truly recover from the shellshock of war, Hendricks never truly recovers from the loss of his one great love.

Hendricks devotes his life to helping and healing others, trying to do for them what he could not do for himself. Although the novel contains events which attempt to rehabilitate the sadness of Hendricks’ life, such as the conversion of his childhood home into a therapeutic centre, and the discovery of Luisa in later life, the pervasive sense of the book is one of deep sadness and loss. That said, Where My Heart Used to Beat is beautifully written and a powerful eulogy to love, loss and the devastation of war in the twentieth century.

By Jennifer Thomas

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1 Comment

  1. Hello there! This blog post couldn’t be written much better!
    Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept talking about this. I’ll forward this post to him.

    Pretty sure he’ll have a very good read. Thanks for sharing!

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