Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal

Wellcome Book Prize 2017 shortlist: Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal

Review published on March 14, 2017.

I believe this could be the most intensely atmospheric book I have read.

Three teenage boys rise before dawn ‘the night still sealed, shut behind the cliffs’, heading off in excitement at the prospect of surfing an exceptional and rare wave that has been forecast. The clever use of tight prose and language conveys their excitement so well that the reader is quickly caught up in the anticipation followed by the boys’ exhilaration of catching and riding that wave. An enthralling opener that grabbed me immediately holding me until the very last word.

Journeying home on a high from the thrill of their morning a dreadful accident leaves two of the boys seriously injured and Simon in a critical condition, unlikely to survive.

This is writing of the highest standard. I was in that hospital, an observer when the medical team discussed their choice of way forward as the story unfolded, alive with a sense of immediacy.Simon is the focus around whom the story revolves but he will never know the effect his condition has on all who care for him. The reader is an invisible presence watching the trauma involved around the shell of this young boy whose body is kept functioning thanks to medical machinery. The spare prose has such clarity it is like watching a movie crammed with emotion, relationships and decisions of intensity.

The clinical staff gently and succinctly, while concealing the need for haste, put forward their recommendations but final decisions rest with Simon’s parents. It felt intrusive watching Sean and Marianne’s distress as they struggled to decide what Simon would have wished to happen to his organs. They look fondly on him, their much-loved son, as he lies there and reconcile his appearance with reality. One of the most emotional scenes I have ever read and yes it made me weep.

This is such a wonderful book and certain to arouse empathy in readers. The events are so real and relevant to the now, a book that will stimulate lively discussion and raise the question in readers’ minds ‘What would I do?”

The writer is to be admired for her talent and for her sensitivity. A harrowing tale, with such clearly defined characters, is rounded off neatly, and I believe aptly, with an upbeat conclusion.

I may have finished reading this intense tale but it will linger in my mind for a very long time. It is so exciting to discover a hitherto unfamiliar writer especially one so highly skilled and knowledgeable. A beautiful book that I do not hesitate to recommend highly.

Sheila A. Grant 5*


Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal, published by MacLehose Press on 23 June, 2016 in paperback

Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017


Wellcome Book Prize 2017 shortlist: The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss


Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

You may also like