Harvesting the Heart (by Jodi Picoult)

I’ve read only a few novels by Jodi Picoult though somehow I feel as if I’ve read more. I found two of them very thought-provoking and well-written although I didn’t much enjoy the third one I tried. Nevertheless I’ve gradually added a few more to my wishlist and have been pleased to be given them. I was given this particular one for Christmas 2012 but have only just recently read it.

‘Harvesting the Heart’ is one of Picoult’s earlier novels, first published in 1993 although it was then re-published about three years ago. It features a young couple from very different backgrounds. Nicholas grew up in a privileged home with two loving parents and all he could want materially. He is an excellent cardiac surgeon. Paige, by contrast, grew up with a father who loved her but never had any money; her mother, whom she adored, walked out when Paige was five, and never returned.

The prologue of the book gets right to the heart of the story: Paige has abandoned her husband and young baby Max, although we don’t know why. She now wants to return but Nicholas won’t let her in so she’s camping in the garden. The first two-thirds of the book then take us back in time, so we see how Paige and Nicholas met and how their romance blossomed despite parental opposition. There are many flashbacks, too, to their childhood and teens - particularly Paige’s as she grew up feeling the loss of her mother and going through several traumatic experiences.

The writing is powerful, the characterisation very good. I found the continual time change a little confusing at first; the viewpoint changes between Nicholas (in the third person) and Paige (in the first person) which is fine; the relevant name is at the heading of each section. The chronology isn’t too hard to figure out either, although sometimes it all flows so well that it’s difficult to remember what year we’re in, particularly when picking the book up at the end of the day.

There are many issues covered in this book, including post-natal depression, and I found it quite thought-provoking at times. By the time I was about two-thirds through it was almost impossible to put down. I hoped that there would be a happy ending but it seemed hard to imagine how it could happen. Paige is still insecure about herself; Nicholas so caught up in his work that it’s hard for him to consider anyone’s point of view but his own. Perhaps a top surgeon has to have this kind of focus and the inability to switch off.

I do have a few minor niggles with the book that stop me from giving it a five-star rating. I didn’t like the detailed medical information, particularly the descriptions of what happens when Nicholas performs or supervises heart surgery. I am sure Jodi Picoult did her research thoroughly and probably had her scenes checked by those who work in this field but it wasn’t necessary to the story and made me feel very squeamish. A hint here and there would have been sufficient.

I also found myself cringing at some of the very dated information about babies - I know that solids were recommended at three months back in the ‘90s, but don’t believe that, even then, a baby at less than six months would be ‘promoted’ to a front-facing car seat. Nor is it likely that a baby of this age would use even a couple of words as clearly as Max does. But what disturbed me most is that Paige runs away when she has been breastfeeding Max around the clock; yet there’s no mention at all of the painful engorgement (and, quite likely, infection) that she would have suffered as a result.

They’re minor details, but they jarred. This is, though, in a sense a a compliment to the author because the characters got under my skin so much that I felt they were real. But it bugged me that her medical research was (I assume) thorough and meticulous, yet some of her descriptions of a young baby were not really appropriate.

Nevertheless, overall I thought this an excellent book and would recommend it highly.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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