A grief so deep it broke the barriers to the past

The Stopped Heart: A Novel - Julie Myerson

This is a hauntingly beautiful story and so well written.  Mary and Graham Coles have bought a cottage in the Suffolk countryside.  Though it isn’t explained until well into the book, you know that they have gone through a tragic event and are trying to make a new start.  Mary does her best to try to settle in but she’s plagued by glimpses of a red-haired man and a group of children who are there one minute but gone the next.  Is she going mad or is the house haunted?

 

Alternating with Mary and Graham’s story is the story of a family who lived in the house a century and a half ago.  A 13-year-old girl, Eliza, lives there with her parents and younger brothers and sisters.  Her little sister, Lottie, seems to know the people who live in the present-day part of the book and wants to name her kitten “Merricoles”, her version of the name “Mary Coles”.  But Lottie also thinks she was once dead so no one listens to her.  A mysterious red-haired man, James Dix, is discovered under a fallen tree after a storm.  His entry into this family starts a disturbing escalation towards a terrible violence that you know is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

 

This isn’t your usual haunted house story, not at all.  There are moments in this book when you wonder just who is haunting who.  Can a grief be so deep that it can break through the barriers to a tragedy from the past?  The two stories weave together in such a chilling way.  There is also an exploration of the dark side of love and trust, both in Mary’s growing relationship with her neighbor, Eddie, and Eliza’s relationship with the venomous James.  This is a terrifying story and a heart-wrenching one.  There are many layers to the book and it’s one that I’m sure will reveal different layers when re-read.  It’s profoundly deep and disturbing.   The only fault I can find with it is that I felt parts of it went on for a bit too long.  But it’s a story that I will not soon forget.  Highly recommended.