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Review of When Things are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent


his is the story of two sisters. First, Harper, a writer with an endless appreciation for life, living with what she calls the 'Up syndrome' and a congenital heart defect. And Marlowe, the more solemn of the two, who is consumed by grief for their late mother and a determination to keep Harper alive. 


Marlowe is studying in London when she gets the dreaded call that her sister's heart is failing. To protect Harper at all costs, she returns to the family home in Hong Kong, but once there she is met with ever-mounting familial tension and an ableist medical establishment that refuses to give Harper a new heart. 


On the surface, this is a novel about a sisterly bond, grief, and denial - but Hannah Bent also takes us to a deeper level. Marlowe has tunnel vision when it comes to saving Harper's life, so when she stumbles across some research on black market organ transplants, she jumps on the idea and won't tolerate the concerns of anyone who tries to get in her way. Against her better judgement and Harper's wishes to keep her own heart, Marlowe manipulates her sister into travelling to Shanghai on shifty Mr Zhang's promise of new organs. But things become increasingly dark when questions arise about where these organs are coming from...


This is a really rich piece of literature about the things we do in desperation to hold onto life and love. It is a captivating, heartbreaking novel and a beautiful depiction of disability. I can see this book on English literature syllabuses, with its wonderful layers being picked apart.


Review by Abi.

When Things Are Alive They Hum was published on 15/09/22 by Ultimo Press.


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