An unbelievably distasteful betrayal that takes an awfully long time.

10 Dec

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A faded rock star, a talented geneticist, an embittered tabloid king and a scientist all walk into a novel. Just joking. Though actually they are all a part of this sprawling tale about modern morality the story isn’t quite as comical as this setup suggests. With his newest novel Meek, the author most notably of The People’s Republic of Love has contributed to the collection of contemporary writing about how sodden and debased modern life currently is. In, if not quite the same league then easily the same category of books as Visit From the Goon Squad & Freedom, Meek’s latest offering is one of dilemma wrapped in practical romance and all tied up with notions of death, love and immortality.

Richard Sheppard, the lead singer of The Lazygods, is a married man with two children and a successful reality TV show yet the opening sequence sees him cheating on his wife with a 15 year old girl. Things spiral out from here creating agonising situations for both Richard and perversely for his scientist sister Bec who has developed a vaccine for one strand of malaria and whom Richard loves and respects but fails to protect.  Richard’s relationship with his sister is a bit like watching a python eating a goat: an unbelievably distasteful betrayal that takes an awfully long time.

Taken in turns both sharp and meandering the story progresses from Richard’s initial transgression into the lives of those around him; Meek deals with Richard brilliantly, he’s so completely self obsessed and so totally and quite often humorously unaware of any greater moral context that he’s always forgiving himself and damaging others. Richard’s actions set the ball rolling and the 500 odd page book then settles in exploring the lives of those around him who will inevitably be impacted however abstractly by his lack of moral fiber and called to question their own.

Dealing blows along the way to tabloid journalism, Meek himself a celebrated journalist for many years, has created a pointed tribute to the likes of Piers Morgan with his character Val, the head of a Daily Mail type endeavor who loses his mind and takes to the internet with his own version of god and censorship: The Moral Foundation. The initiative seeks to unearth and publicise all manner of tawdry behavour among the ruling famous and it destroys the mental health of those within its ranks. Always waiting for the call, waiting to be cast in the light of their very worst transgressions, Richard and others are slowly pushed to breaking point. It’s here, when the characters have the most to lose, that Meek really showcases what it takes to have backbone and what is looks like to be spineless.

Phillip Pullman describes the book as a ‘moral thriller’ and it’s an apt description, certainly a page turner, tightly composed and vastly cast and considered, The Heart Broke In is something of a modern fable with large scale commentary and minute beautiful observations.

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