WHEN JAMES MEEK excused himself to take a quick call before our interview and began speaking Russian, I was reminded of our introduction in 2006. He was touring independent bookstores across the United States to promote The People’s Act of Love, a bitter, wintry tale set in Siberia in the midst of a tumultuous revolutionary Russia, and I was a bookseller at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, helping with the event. After the reading, he signed a book to me — in Russian. To this day, I can only make out my name, the location, and the date.
Fast-forward seven years and two novels later, when James and I met for dinner near Piccadilly Circus earlier this autumn. The former war correspondent and Guardian Bureau Chief seems to have taken a post on the front lines on matters of the heart these days. His latest book The Heart Broke In was just released in the United Kingdom with a forthcoming publication date abroad. In a few weeks, he would set off for a similar book tour, only this time I wouldn’t be in Mississippi to hand-sell his book. We toasted to the passing of time, which seemed appropriate.
The Heart Broke In is both a nuanced meditation on time and its supremacy in all things, as well as on morality, and the fundamental role it plays in the story of humanity. Both themes come to life through a few chosen people, among them: scientists, fading celebrities, an assassin, and a media magnate. The result is a novel that recalls the presence of time that Meeks’s writing is known for, and reaffirms his place in the world of arts and letters as a writer sensitive to his characters, especially his female protagonists who often find themselves in impossible dilemmas and transformative journeys.
MARY WARNER: You can’t miss the role that time plays in a thematic way in The Heart Broke In. From emphasizing the characters' ages to a comment from Alex, a scientist who desperately wants to have a child that “he wants to belong to time,” not to mention the passage of time between scenes, you make it a part of the story, but in a nuanced way.
JAMES MEEK: Our sense of time is the fourth dimension and our sixth sense. It’s an exciting journey for a writer to make and to launch out on work that spans several years and to try to deal with this compression and expansion of time. You zoom into something where every single moment is dramatized and then you stretch out to the telling of a story over months and years. I did something like this in my last book We Are Now Beginning Our Descent, but this is much more ambitious.
In this particular book, what was interesting for me was putting all that passage of time in a number of characters over a few years into the context of a longer lifetime growing from the death of Bec and Ritchie’s father in the 1980s, to the present day in the early 21st century, and then putting that in the context of all human existence, and then all life on earth in the context of the billion years of evolution of the organism. So that was difficult, but because it was difficult it was enjoyable. It was a challenge.
MW: The structure of this book is different than your preceding novels. Tell ...read more