Patrick is a university professor, fifty years old, a philandering womanizer, whose heart failure was so advanced he was given an outside chance of making it another 6 months. But a sixteen year old boy on a motorcycle had an accident and because of the donor card in his wallet, Patrick has a much longer future ahead of him. The question is what his future looks like. When Patrick wakes up in hospital after the transplant, his ex-wife is at his bedside and he has no grasp of the enormity of what has just occurred. He certainly knows it intellectually but he doesn't know it deep in his newly transplanted heart.
Drew Beamish is a troubled and rebellious teenager. His family is poor but proud and he's got great potential even if he'll have to overcome a lack of advantages in order to use it. But like his ancestor before him, he is close to beaten before he ever even gets started and in many ways, he lives down to that expectation. He is fairly aggressively pursuing a relationship with his teacher at school and after his father's early and unexpected death from a heart attack after a farm accident, he pushes at the boundaries pre-drawn for him all the harder. And it is this raging against his fate that lands him squarely on the motorcycle that speeds his death.
The novel's first person narration alternates mainly between Patrick, post-operation, and Drew, pre-accident, with a short chapter focused on Drew's ancestor, his role in the uprisings in the Fens, and his own enduring love two hundred years prior. For Drew, there is a real hopelessness about the future; ironically his death gives Patrick the opportunity to even have a future, filled with hope or no. And with this second chance, Patrick experiences subtle personality changes, reevaluating his past relationships and family ties, and must face head on the question of what obligation he has to Drew and Drew's memory simply because he was the recipient of Drew's heart. The landscape of the novel is bleak and blighted, the flat, former swampland filled in as agricultural land. The tone of the novel is atmospheric, spare, and oddly unemotional. The strength of the story lies in the writing. It's a very literary novel that examines what part of us resides in our heart, what spark of our person remains there as long as it beats, even in the chest of another human being. As Patrick feels the constant beating of Drew's heart in his chest, he must take stock of a life squandered and a life cut short and decide where the steady beats of the future will take him. Dawson has raised some intriguing questions and laid them inside the lives of two rather unexceptional characters, who become exceptional over the course of the narrative, connected by the most basic, physical sign of life, a fully functioning heart.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.