Review by Paul Burke
Publisher: Myriad Editions 26 August 2021
ISBN: 978-1838386009 PB
Your Still Beating Heart is a page turner and no mistaking, but perhaps it’s a little too easy to label this original and thought provoking novel as a thriller per se. Your Still Beating Heart is an exposition on grief and that’s where it begins and ends really. This is a pungent evocation of a tragic, but random, act of violence and, most importantly, the ramifications for the surviving partner of a man murdered in front of her eyes. Keever’s use of language, his character Eire relates her story at one remove, actually draws us deeper into the narrative from the very start:
‘So, this is how your husband dies.’
Eira and her decent, kind hearted American husband, Tod, move from Wales to London. Her Welsh identity is important to her, both are interlopers in the city. An ordinary trip to the cinema for a film is followed by a bus journey home but the decision to catch this bus has tragic consequences. As Eira discusses the film with Tod a man gets on. He’s disturbed, shouting, telling Eira to shut up, then he spits on her. Usually passive Tod is angry, he reacts, grabs the man, they wrestle to the floor and he holds him down. Everything dies down, the man staggers away and gets off the bus, vanishing into the night. Tod sits back, they are both relieved, It’s only then that they realise Tod is bleeding, he’s been stabbed. Eira looks for help, phones an ambulance, Tod is getting cold. Unbidden, unexpected everything in Eira’s world has changed, Tod is dead. It’s a poignant scene, the mundanity of the cruel crime hits home hard.
Eira is a secretary at law firm Bradley & Bradley in Hackney. It’s a temporary post, she takes time off. When she returns her boss’s compassion and understanding of her situation is superficial. He says the right things, like take your time, ease your way in, but he doesn’t want to hear her story. So Eira decides to go away to Prague. She and Tod had been happy in Prague, that was where he proposed. Each new person is shocked by her story, it becomes a way of deflecting attention, they back away. Eira rents an apartment and settles down for a few months, still unsure about the future. There’s a void to be filled, a numbness to overcome. Out drinking late one night she meets Mario, they get on, drink some more. Then head to another bar at his suggestion, he listens to her. He introduces her to his friend, Denis. When she goes to toilet Denis follows, he pushes her up against a wall, he wants her purse. This has been a scam all along but she doesn’t accept it meekly. Eira hits Denis, he falls crashing to the ground, Mario intervenes, apologises, it’s all been a mistake, Denis got the wrong idea. She doesn’t go to the police. They continue drinking, that’s when Mario says they could use a woman like her. A simple matter of collecting a package abroad and driving it back here. The void in her life is being filled but not with a return to normality, work, safe new relationships but with a pact with criminals. Eira sets out on a road trip that takes her into danger and betrayal and the thriller element of the novel ramps up. Is all this just to see if she can still feel?
Your Still Beating Heart is about grief, about the limits of compassion and about a woman stripped of her understanding of who she is, desperately searching for meaning in her life. Gripping, entertaining and empathetic.
Tyler Keevil is Director of this MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University and is the author of three novels.