book reviews, French Cinema, French literature, Grand Prix RTL-Lire, Heal the Living, Maylis De Kerangal, Medical Literature, medical novel, novel, Sam Taylor, The Heart, Translated fiction, World Literature
The movie “Heal the Living” has just been released. It is based on Maylis De Kerangel’s extraordinary French best-selling medical novel “the heart”. It explores the emotions of a heart transplant from the perspective of all participants: parents; surgeons; interns; nurses; recipient and family; deceased girlfriend; and the French bureaucracy. Each are narrators in an almost theatrical production, driven by character development and prose, rather than plot or anatomical analysis.
The author’s clinically observant clausal prose sets the stage, lighting each character.
“The ICU is a place apart within the hospital, a place for tangential lives, deep comas, terminal cases– for those bodies situated between life and death. A place of corridors and rooms, where all is suspense. Revol works in this twilight territory–the underside of the diurnal world, where life is continuous and stable, where the days pass in light, rushing toward future plans–the way you might fiddle around in the dark pockets and hidden folds of a large, old overcoat. This is why he likes being on duty on Sundays, at night– has liked it since he was a young intern.”
She exposes the frozen time of a mother’s grief over her son’s accidental death.
“The street is silent too, as silent and colorless as the rest of the world. The catastrophe has spread through everything– places, objects– like the plague, as if the world were adapting itself to what happened this morning, the brightly painted van crashing at full speed into the post, the young guy propelled headfirst through the windshield, as if the surrounding landscape had absorbed the impact of the accident, had swallowed the aftershock, muffled the last vibrations, as if the shock wave had grown smaller, spread itself thin, weakening until it was a flat line, a simple line rushing into space and merging with all the other billions and billions of lines that formed violence of the world, this pin cushion of sadness and ruin, as far as the eye can see, nothing: no glimmer of light, no burst of bright color, no gold or crimson, no music drifting from an open window– no pounding rock tune, no melody to which you might sing along, laughing, happy, and vaguely ashamed at knowing the lyrics to such a sentimental song- no smell of coffee or flowers or spice, nothing, not a red cheeked child running after a ball or crouching, chin on knees, eyes magnetized by the progress of a marble rolling along the sidewalk, not a sound, not a single human voice calling out or whispering words of love, no newborn baby’s cry, not a single living being caught in the continuity of time, occupied in some simple, insignificant act on a winter’s morning.”
Illuminating for me, French law prescribes the principle of presumed consent in the absence of membership in the national organ donor registry. Transplant is a subtle, forced discussion immediately imposed on recently grieving parents, as time is of the essence. The intern is understanding.
“Thomas’s principle is absolute respect for the wishes of loved ones, and he also understands the indisputable nature of that which make the body of the deceased sacred for those who loved him. It’s his way of preventing an approach that risks becoming– supported legally and ethically by the letter of the law and shortage of transplant organs– a steamroller.”
Each character is given a story of their own, which makes the narrow plot more rewarding. The plot however is subservient to the prose, which is why I suggest you read the book in lieu of, or in addition to seeing the film.