I loved the title. It’s taken from a Tennyson poem, that Faulks quotes at the start of the book. Anyway, it’s the reason I bought the book. Faulks’ more famous work is Birdsong from 1993, in which a women in the 1970’s tries to understand her grandfather’s experiences of WW1. I never read it, but picked this more contemporary effort instead. This also deals with war, although more focused on WW2 this time.
Set in the mid 1980’s our protagonist, Robert Hendricks is prompted to revisit old memories of his childhood, a lost love, and war time combat after receiving an odd letter from a man who served with his father in the First World War. The death of Robert’s father in the war has left a hole in his life, like many children growing up in the interwar period. There is a compelling moment when teenage Robert looks at his teacher, injured in WW1, and doesn’t realise he is looking at his own future.
Rob is also a psychiatrist, who worked in the crazy post-war period to change the system of essentially incarcerating mental patients, and instead focusing on listening to them to help them work through their problems. So he goes on his own journey, working through his painful memories of wartime combat.
Here’s my first issue. The war stuff was boring. Lots of stuff about platoons, troops, brigades and so on which meant little to me. I think Faulks did explain it at one point but then I forgot. When A company were killed I had no idea how many people that was, and didn’t really care much about them. I’m sure actually war is horrible, but this felt like a dry description of something he read in a book. ‘The Narrow Road To The Deep North’ is a similar story, a Dr looking back at the time he spent in a Japanese POW camp in WW2. But the descriptions of death and illness are graphic and memorable.
The criticism I had of The Narrow Road To The Deep North was that, whilst living through the grotesque horror of a POW camp, he was day dreaming about a boring woman he’d had a fling with. Same thing here really, in Where My Heart Used To Beat, our Robert keeps babbling on about L. She’s a boring Italian women he had a brief fling with but, the loss of whom apparently destroyed his ability to connect with human beings or something…
Ten years after the last time I saw her I knew that having loved Luisa, I would ever afterwards be lonely.
I’m sorry, I’m not that romantic. I find it hard to believe that you could wallow in loneliness for decades over someone you knew for six weeks…And she wasn’t that interesting. You know the line in Sherlock Holmes about ‘the woman’, Irene Adler was the only woman that Holmes could acknowledge. There’s her, and there’s all other women. Well, I never really got that either I’m afraid. Irene Adler never seemed that exciting, and Luisa whats-her-name spoke Italian a bit and took her clothes off.
Anyway, for the most part this book was just rather boring. It was OK but nothing special. It made me realise how much better The Narrow Road was.