The Heart Broke In: A Novel

( 3 )



Ritchie Shepherd, aging former pop star and wildly successful producer of a reality teen talent show, is starting to trip over the intricacy of his own lies. Gallingly, his sister, Bec, a scientist developing a crucial vaccine, is as addicted to truth-telling as Ritchie is to falsehood. Ritchie relies on her certitude even as he ...

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The Heart Broke In: A Novel

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Ritchie Shepherd, aging former pop star and wildly successful producer of a reality teen talent show, is starting to trip over the intricacy of his own lies. Gallingly, his sister, Bec, a scientist developing a crucial vaccine, is as addicted to truth-telling as Ritchie is to falsehood. Ritchie relies on her certitude even as he seethes with resentment. A devastating chain of events is set into motion when Bec tells her fiancé, Val, a powerful tabloid editor, that she can’t bring herself to marry him after all. Furious, he sets into motion an elaborate revenge plot intended to destroy Bec by exposing the people who are close to her.

A bighearted epic in the manner of Tolstoy, James Meek's The Heart Broke In is also as shrewd, starkly funny, and of-the-moment as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom or Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. Most of all, it is a staggeringly good read, fiction with the reverberating resonance of truth.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Few writers combine moral seriousness with such a charmingly light touch.”—The Boston Globe


“[The Heart Broke In is] a novel to sink yourself into on a Sunday afternoon, disappearing into the characters’ lives and worries and wants, and learning a little about immorality and immortality (the words are cousins), both thoughtfully explored.”—The Seattle Times

“Sex, fame, family, mortality: Meek (The People’s Act of Love) grabs major themes with both hands in his latest, a dazzlingly drawn modern saga.”—Entertainment Weekly

“You have to admire the scope and ambition of this operatic saga.”—The Guardian (London)

Publishers Weekly
At the heart of British writer Meek’s seventh work of fiction (after We Are Now Beginning Our Descent) are brother and sister Ritchie, has-been pop-star, and Bec Shepherd, promising malaria researcher, whose father was killed by an IRA man when the Shepherds were just kids. Then there’s Alex Comrie, former drummer in Ritchie’s band, the Lazygods, now a gene therapist and reluctant heir to his brilliant Uncle Harry’s cancer research institute. Val Oatman, editor of a tabloid newspaper, watches all of them until they become famous—or notorious—enough for him to take them down. Both Alex and Val fall in love with the beautiful, intelligent, and honest Bec, who’s begun using herself as a guinea pig for her own research. In this novel, the Dickensian coincidences on which the plot often turns can stretch our present-day credulity, in part because they’ve fallen out of fashion in contemporary literary fiction, in part because the rest of Meek’s novel is so bent on verisimilitude. Still, there is much to enjoy in this ambitious portrait of deeply human characters, grappling with how to live in the modern world, where science is capable of almost anything, including, as Alex’s uncle hopes, immortality. Agent: Natasha Fairweather, AP Watt. (Oct. 2)
Library Journal
This expansive and articulate British novel focuses largely on the romantic involvement of Rebecca (Bec) Shepherd, a brilliant, overworked biologist attempting to find a cure for malaria, and Alex Comrie, also brilliant, who researches cancer cures and aging. Bec's brother, Ritchie, an inveterate philanderer, hustler, and egomaniac. was once a huge pop star but now produces a British version of American Idol. When Bec breaks up with Val, the well-known editor of a scandal sheet that specializes in digging up dirt on pop stars, he seeks revenge by targeting her and anyone close to her in his paper. The most obvious target is Ritchie, who feverishly tries to cover up his lifestyle. Meanwhile, Bec and Alex have gotten together but face a personal problem that could jeopardize their relationship, compelling Bec to devise a scheme she hopes to keep a secret from Alex. VERDICT Though slightly laborious as the large plot winds down, this is a clever, observant, and absorbing novel as timely as the British tabloid scandals in the news right now. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/12.]—Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta
Kirkus Reviews
Scientists may have some luck in explaining how our bodies function and malfunction, but who can tell the ways of the heart? Some 25 years ago, Capt. Greg Shepherd was captured and shot by Northern Irish guerrillas. His death has infected his children's hearts like a parasite, leading them into the bleaker frontiers of love. Ritchie Shepherd, an aging rock star, has a good family: a wife, Karin, and two children. Yet Ritchie's moral compass is contaminated, as his affair with a 15-year-old girl testifies. Ritchie's sister, Bec, is a researcher in Tanzania, who finds her blood colonized by a new parasite, which may hold the key to a malaria vaccine, and which she names after her father. Her rather accidental fiance, Val, is a powerful yet emotionally unbalanced newspaper editor. Realizing that she does not love Val, Bec tries to right the moral ship by returning her engagement ring, but she unwittingly sets in motion a course of betrayal. Val offers Ritchie a devil's bargain: He can keep his pedophiliac secret if he exposes something just as damaging about Bec. Struggling to find his way out of the moral swamp, Ritchie delves into the past. He begins a documentary on Colum Donobhan, the man who shot his father, a man who may be harboring more secrets about Capt. Shepherd's death. Grieving that her vaccine for malaria is a failure, Bec returns to London and finds Alex, who has secretly loved her for years. A brilliant cancer researcher, Alex has his own troubles, including his Uncle Harry's cancer diagnosis. He and Harry have made careers out of explaining how cancer cells behave, but neither of them can predict the consequences of following one's heart. Richly drawn characters behaving in unexpected ways make Meek's (We are Now Beginning our Descent, 2008, etc.) latest a gem.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250037770
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 10/1/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,390,382
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

James Meek is an award-winning writer whose novels include The People’s Act of Love and We Are Now Beginning Our Descent. He lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt




The story doing the rounds at Ritchie Shepherd’s production company was accurate when it appeared inside the staff’s heads, when they hardly sensed it, let alone spoke it. It was like a faint stink, clear enough to notice, too trivial to mention. All through Teen Makeover’s autumn and spring seasons, when they clustered around Ritchie, asking him questions they already knew the answers to, cadging compliments and begging him to give their enemies a telling-off, they watched him. They saw he wasn’t as funny as before. Was he keeping his jokes for someone else? He moved in a weird way now, they thought. He walked with an awkward bounce, too eager, as if he reckoned something had given him extra energy, or made him younger.

As long as the rumor was unspoken, the hearts of the staff ached. The rumor was this: that after a long peace Ritchie was, once again, cheating on his wife, Karin, this time with an underage girl. They felt sorry for Ritchie’s family, but what if the damage went further, to the men and women on the company payroll? They sensed a personal threat. Scandal spread from the first carrier. Everybody liked Ritchie, but they were confident that he was selfish enough to infect them all. The production company offices were intoxicated by nervousness and suspicion. When twin fourteen-year-old girls showed up one day without an accompanying parent and asked for Ritchie, his PA, Paula, got up too suddenly from behind her desk, caught the trailing edge of a printed e-mail with her thigh, and upended a cup of coffee across her skirt. The chief lighting technician wrote off a fresnel worth two thousand pounds. He dropped it from the bridge when he saw Ritchie smile and touch the elbow of a lanky year ten in a short dress. “She had womanly curves earlier than most” is what the gaffer would have said in his defense, if he hadn’t been afraid to hex them all, and he only yelled “Butterfingers!” while the people down below were jumping clear of chips of lens skittering across the floor. When the script editor saw Ritchie talking to a group of pert-bottomed schoolgirls in leotards she strode over and interrupted him in mid-sentence. She realized, as soon as she did it, that she was making a fool of herself. The girls’ teachers were there. The ache of fear in her heart had made her do it.

The ache could be soothed only by being put into words. The production team needed an utterance to lift the dread from their chests, and when the rumor eventually found its spoken form, it relieved them so completely that they believed it. Much better that Ritchie’s ten-year marriage to Karin should break up and that he should lose custody of his son and daughter over the pretty but older-than-twenty-one new presenter Lina Riggs than that the boss should be doing something illegal and shameful, something that would stain them all with the indelible dye of an unspeakable word. Without anyone noticing the shift, “I wonder if” and “I bet” and “You don’t suppose” changed to “I heard” and “I’ve got a juicy one” and “I know who Ritchie’s shagging.” Believing soothed them all.

Ritchie found that whenever he went near Riggsy a stupid smile appeared on his employees’ faces. He didn’t know how happy he was making them by encouraging them to believe he was betraying his family with a legal adult. They didn’t know that their rumor had become wrong as soon as it was said out loud, and that the original rumor, the ache of fear in their hearts, was true. They didn’t know that Ritchie was seeing a not-quite-sixteen-year-old girl he’d met when she appeared on Teen Makeover the previous season. He saw Nicole once a week. It was his intention to enjoy it for as long as he felt like it, then end it tenderly. Nicole would, he imagined, be moved that he should voluntarily give her up. It would be soon, and nobody would have found out. How could they? The two of them were careful, and London was a wild forest of red brick and roof tiles, where maps only reminded you how little you knew.


Copyright © 2012 by James Meek

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Reading Group Guide

James Meek’s fiction calls to mind the inventive storytelling power of contemporary luminaries ranging from Jennifer Egan to Jonathan Franzen. With The Heart Broke In, Meek brings us an epic for our time, melding topics such as gene therapy, tabloid journalism, and the search for solace in an alienating world.

Within these intricately crafted chapters, brother and sister Ritchie and Bec Shepherd lead vastly different lives—he’s as addicted to trickery as she is to honesty—while they come to terms with the death of their father at the hands of a Northern Irish terrorist years ago. An aging pop star and reality show producer, Ritchie begins to realize that his lies are catching up with him. Bec divides her time between Tanzania and her laboratory in England, where she dedicates her life to finding a vaccine against malaria. Ritchie and Bec’s divergent paths are about to become united at the hands of Alex Comrie, a scientist who once served as the drummer in Ritchie’s band, and Val Oatman, the editor of a powerful, sensational newspaper. As the self-appointed conscience of the nation, Val orchestrates a plot that will bring to bear everything that matters to us now: children, celebrity, secrets and shame, the quest for youth, loyalty and betrayal, and the wonderful, terrible inescapability of family.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of James Meek’s The Heart Broke In. We hope they will enrich your experience of this shrewd and starkly funny novel.

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Customer Reviews

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