Van has finished reading…Mend The Living by Maylis De Kerangal (translated by Jessica Moore)

12 Feb

I can always rely on Isabel Costello to recommend an astounding book in translation. Maylis De Kerangal’s Mend The Living, translated by Jessica Moore, is no exception. It tells the story of a heart, of a day in the life of twenty-year-old Simon Limbeau who loves to surf, of what moves him and what makes him who he is, of his family and friends, his lover, of the people he will meet this day as yet unknown, encounters at this point inconceivable.

Before it begins there is a simple four-word quote: my heart is full. It’s a quote that passes by, in the way these quotes tend to, and is quickly swept aside by the torrent of Maylis’s prose. But how true it is. I think there should be a little note after the last page to go back and remind yourself of this quote, to close your eyes and look inward and reach for the throb of your own heart. The book opens, ‘What it is, Simon Limbeau’s heart… no one really knows;’ and you might refute this, you might roll out the anatomy lesson, the science, the metaphors that explain the machine, but the truth in Maylis’s words remains. Despite knowing the heart is not our emotional seat it’s still the part we reach for isn’t it, when we’re wounded by love. It’s still where we feel the ache when something we can’t process or battle scoops us out. It’s still the currency of what we feel, the go-to image we parade on our sleeves.

Though it’s essentially Simon’s story, it’s not from Simon’s point of view that we see it. In fact it doesn’t feel as though there is a narrator, rather that we are a kind of camera witnessing events unfold, omniscient and unnoticed. To say it like this makes it sound distant but the opposite is true. Its proximity is a closeness that I’m hard-pressed to recall in another third-person novel. I was reminded of the complicity of the first person plural in Jon McGregor’s Even The Dogs. As a consequence the characters of the novel come through in a very different way. It’s not their thoughts or their emotional responses per se that show us who they are but their manner, their frames of reference. It’s as though we’re all riding the wave, the stark inevitability of what will pass unavoidable and there is nothing else to do but go through the motions, hold on.

The language adds to this sense. Okay, you may need a dictionary from time to time (Maylis is clearly a fan of uncommon language) but that won’t impede the feel of the reading. There were moments I could’ve imagined I was reading a prose poem. The book feels larger than its 240-odd pages, like the full heart of that opening quote, and this I think is down to the relentless nature of the prose. It comes right at you. There’s a numbness, a sense of detachment despite that proximity but don’t imagine that means it’s devoid of emotion. Rather it’s the sense that it’s all too much, that the body regulates by shutting out and that in turn brings us a step closer to the players. There’s genuine violence in Maylis’s words. It’s a touching experience, visceral sometimes but very moving.

We should read more works in translation. It’s not always a guarantee that you’ll get something different but at the very least it’s likely to introduce a perspective you don’t meet every day. With Maylis de Karangal’s Mend The Living I think I can safely say that you will get something you’re not used to. Her approach is striking in its intensity. It’s a very deep, very emotional and very enjoyable read.


Mend The Living was published by MacLehose Press (Quercus) on 11th February 2016 ISBN:9780857053879

I couldn’t find Maylis online (let me know if you know where to find her and I’ll add a link)

You can find Jessica Moore on her website

2 Responses to “Van has finished reading…Mend The Living by Maylis De Kerangal (translated by Jessica Moore)”


  1. My top five reads of 2016 | vanisreading - 10/01/2017

    […] a recommendation from Isabel Costello (author of Paris Mon Amour and curator of the literary sofa), Mend The Living by Maylis De Kerangal (translated by Jessica Moore). Isabel can always be relied upon to turn up an […]

  2. Van has finished reading… Histories by Sam Guglani | vanisreading - 22/11/2017

    […] facets of humanity that so often pass unseen (I’m reminded of Maylis de Kerangal’s excellent Mend The Living). It’s often said that a good story is one that makes you look at a situation differently. With […]

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