Maylis de Kerangal

French writer

Maylis de Kerangal initially worked for the French publishing company Éditions Gallimard, before founding her own publishing house focused on children’s literature, Le Baron Perché. She now works full-time as a writer and has published over 15 books to date, all of which received significant media attention upon their release in her native France. Her first novel, Corniche Kennedy, was published in 2008 to popular and critical acclaim, and she won the Prix Médicis for Birth of a Bridge in 2010 and the Prix Landerneau for Tangentes vers l’est in 2012. Her greatest success, however, came in 2014, when her captivating novel Mend the Living (also published in English as The Heart: A Novel) won multiple literary awards.

Mend the Living

A heart’s journey

Mend the Living follows a heart during the process of a transplant over a period of 24 hours. It is a polyphonic novel, featuring the voices of the loved ones of Simon (a young man who has been left braindead after a car accident and whose heart is about to be transplanted into someone else), the doctors, nurses and surgeons who treat him, and the patient who receives his heart. Interestingly, Simon’s voice is the only one that is not heard. The organ donation has a major impact on all the characters: it inspires panic, pain, reflection and hope in equal measure, and marks an ending for some but a new beginning for others. The novel won a number of literary prizes, including the Prix Orange du Livre 2014 and the Grand prix RTL-Lire 2014 in France, and the Wellcome Prize 2017 in Britain.

Summary

The importance of life is at the heart of Mend the Living, as is clearly illustrated in its title. The novel opens with three young surfers admiring the terrible beauty of the waves and feeling heroic as they do battle with the sea. However, the real drama comes later: when Simon is killed in a car accident, his parents have to decide whether or not to donate his organs, which could save the lives of total strangers. By considering Simon’s sudden death in this light, his family are able to overcome their pain and go on living. However, first of all there is a race against the clock to remove, transport and transplant his organs while they are still viable.