Review – A Heart Bent Out Of Shape by Emylia Hall

By | March 25, 2014

For Hadley Dunn, life so far has been uneventful – no great loves, no searing losses. But that’s before she decides to spend a year studying in the glittering Swiss city of Lausanne, a place that feels alive with promise. Here Hadley meets Kristina, a beautiful but elusive Danish girl, and the two quickly form the strongest of bonds. Yet one November night, as the first snows of winter arrive, tragedy strikes. 

Hadley, left reeling and guilt-stricken, beings to lean on the only other person to whom she feels close, her American Literature professor Joel Wilson. But as the pair try to uncover the truth of what happened that night, their tentative friendship heads into forbidden territory. And before long a line is irrevocably crossed, everything changes, and two already complicated lives take an even more dangerous course…

I missed out on Emylia Hall’s first novel, The Book of Summers: but I’ll most certainly be putting that right in the not-too-distant future because I was absolutely captivated by her second, A Heart Bent Out Of Shape, published by Headline Review on 13th March.  

Hadley Dunn – unexceptional in every way, living at home with her family and studying English at a nearby university – gets the opportunity to spend a year studying in Lausanne.  Her excitement and enchantment with her new surroundings are palpable, and we enjoy her new life with her.  She establishes a really close friendship with Kristina, a fellow student from Denmark, far more worldly than Hadley, and who lives in the room next to her: we enjoy sharing their discovery of Lausanne, all its tastes and experiences, and their enjoyment of each other. But one snowy evening, tragedy intervenes. Hadley turns to her professor, Joel Wilson, for help – and, as the story unfolds, his support soon becomes more than friendship.

Emylia Hall writes simply and beautifully – the reader feels all the excitement and wonderment of discovery of a new life, and the descriptions of Lausanne and its beauty made me want to get on a plane and see it for myself.  Hadley’s intense friendship with Kristina is beautifully drawn, as are her relationships with Joel and former writer Hugo with whom she develops a very touching connection.  The sadness after the tragedy is perfectly portrayed, as is her wonderment at her new relationships and her confusion when things don’t go as she expects. The story has twists and turns I didn’t expect – real surprises when you think you know how things will pan out – and was extremely deftly handled.  It’s a beautiful story with all the innocence of youth, discovery and first love, but touched with a sadness that will move you to tears.  I look forward to more by this very talented new author.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Headline for my advance reading copy.

Emylia Hall was born in 1978 and grew up in the Devon countryside, the daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker. After studying English and Related Literature at the universities of York and Lausanne, she spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps. It was there that she began to write. Emylia now lives in Bristol with her husband, the comic-book writer and children’s author, Robin Etherington. Her first novel, The Book of Summers, was a Richard & Judy Bookclub pick in 2012.