YA: Out of Heart by Irfan Master

Review published on May 19, 2017.

This year’s winner of the Wellcome Book Prize, Maylis de Kerangal’s novel Mend the Living, centres on the story of a heart transplant and it has won much acclaim in the process. In his YA novel, Out of Heart, Irfan Master uses a heart transplant as the starting point for his exploration of family, life and meaning in a story that deserves similar attention.

Master’s novel is not about the science of medicine or organ donation, but is rather a brilliantly dexterous and tender meditation on the heart in its many guises. Indeed, what begins as a story of one man receiving another man’s heart evolves into a many-sided examination of what it means to be the heart of one’s family, to have a big heart, to share one’s heart, to have one’s heart in the right place and to put all of one’s heart into something. Master is very much a virtuoso in weaving all of these metaphors and connotations into a meaningful tale and he does so with such a beautiful handle of language. The writing in the novel is really of superb quality for its lyricism and ability to shape-shift.

Master’s protagonist is fifteen-year-old Adam, who the author deliberately places at the heart of the story; he is both the physical and metaphysical heartbeat of the novel. It is through Adam that the book explores not only the literal world of the novel as the grandson of a man who donates his heart to a stranger, but more tellingly the figurative world of the novel as he learns, through relationships with his eight-year-old mute sister, his hard-working mum, his absent dad, and the recipient of his grandfather’s heart, William, as well as his passion for art and graffiti, and his development from boyhood into adulthood with the associated financial and familial burden of his situation, what the heart signifies. Adam is a compelling and relevant protagonist for the time. He is an ordinary, unexceptional boy in many ways, quiet, unassuming and self-effacing, but he is extraordinary and exceptional in other ways, both as an artist and a brother, in particular. And, of course, he is big-hearted.

It is hard to do this novel justice in a review; it really is one of those books that needs to be read in order to appreciate its power and beauty, not least in Master’s linguistic and creative skill. My only criticism would be that I wanted to stay with these superb characters for longer; it is all over too soon. And as much as I loved the cover there is mention of a graffiti image that Adam works on across the course of the novel and which is unveiled towards the end that I couldn’t help but feel would have been a lovely touch for the packaging of this novel. However, that’s straying off into different territory, and for the purposes of this review all that really matters is that this is a novel of exquisite artistry and contemporary storytelling. A book full of heart in more ways than one.

Jade Craddock 5/-

Out of Heart by Irfan Master
Hot Key Books 9781471405075 pbk Apr 2017

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