Book Review: The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart, by Jill Dawson (Sceptre, £17.99; ebook, £9.99)

Jill Dawson, The Tell-Tale Heart

We’re now so used to transplant surgery that it’s easy to forget how historically, and even philosophically, strange it is to have someone else’s heart inside you. Certainly, this has

never occurred to Patrick Robson—middle-aged academic, womaniser and proud rationalist—until he comes round after his operation
in Papworth Hospital and realises it’s not his own heart that’s beating faster when he sees his family. So is his new-found tenderness merely due to getting a second chance at life, or is it more mysterious than that? Might the heart—these days such a poor relation to the brain—contain something of our true selves after all?

Dawson is far too wise to attempt any answers to these big questions. Instead, she leaves us to ponder them while she gets on with the job of serving up some wonderful story-telling. Between Patrick’s chapters, we hear not only from the donor—a Fenland teenager—but also from one of the donor’s ancestors, himself a teenager during the Fenland riots of 1816. And, their stories, it transpires, have much in common.

By the end, we may not have found out how supernatural Patrick’s transformation is—but we do know that one guaranteed way to experience other people’s essential feelings is by reading novels as
good as this.