Book Review: The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

Jill Dawson is a writer with many books behind her and has taught creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Here, she tackles the subject of a retired academic recovering from a heart transplant. His recovery is seen from a first person perspective and we meet a slightly irascible individual, looking back on some of his life with regret. His ex-wife visits him and also his daughter for whom he has some affection but unfortunately has let down with some of his womanizing. He meets the woman responsible for transacting the process of donorship and is intrigued as to who’s heart is filling his corporeal form. While these thoughts are flitting through his mind, the narrative stops abruptly and we are transported to the nineteenth century of the Fens region where the donor’s ancestors eke out a peasant’s subsistence on the land. Dawson is very good at describing life in the country where the ancestor narrates the tensions between landowners and tenants in a vivid natural setting. Dawson is especially good at giving the perspective of male characters. The ancestor isn’t especially political and is intent instead on a romantic relationship which is described with candour amid the class division of the contemporary society. Dawson is especially good at using the contemporary idiom, with some poetic detail in the descriptions. The narrative of the heart’s donor follows and his romantic relations are mirrored from that of his ancestor in his crush on an older teacher. Patrick the recipient of the heart then entertain theories of how some of the donor’s characteristics may be passed on, but as a rationalist, quickly dismisses these thoughts. The ending is moving and skilfully completes the fate of the donor and his forefathers, in what has been a surprising and especially poetic narrative, suffused with arresting imagery.

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