23 Sep When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent
How far will sisters go to protect each other?
Oh my heart! Thank you so much, Random Things Tours, for inviting me on to this blogtour, otherwise I might never have picked up Hannah Bent’s profoundly powerful novel about two sisters, trapped in an impossible situation because of their love for each other.
Daughter of an English father and Chinese mother born and brought up in Hong Kong, Marlowe Eve is now studying the life cycles of butterflies and moths in London, and happily settled with boyfriend Ollie.
Then she receives a call from her father James to tell her that her younger sister Harper is seriously ill. She needs a heart transplant, which doctors in Hong Kong are refusing, because she has Down Syndrome and the outlook for her quality of life is poor.
And so we meet Harper, and how much richer our life is because of her. A keeper of diaries written in glittering purple ink, Harper defines herself as someone with Up Syndrome – appropriate, as she is never down.
She has so many abilities – she’s a creative writer, she loves to cook, she has a job as a librarian’s assistant, and she has a boyfriend, Louis, who shares her syndrome. The two are devoted to each other.
But most of all she is compassionate, loving and caring to all those around her, with a special place in her heart reserved for big sister Marlowe.
How can her family bear to let her go?
Marlowe, in particular, is determined that Harper shall have her heart transplant, and so begins a journey that takes her into dark places and has the potential to destroy the sisters’ loving bond, forged in childhood and strengthened by the tragic early death of their mother.
For the irony of this story is that while it is Harper who has Down Syndrome, it is Marlowe who lacks understanding in this situation. In fighting for Harper, is she losing sight of what is best for her, and what Harper actually wants for herself?
Poor Marlowe. She’s the sister more to be pitied in this moving story, her emotions coloured by her mother’s death, which she has never fully come to terms with. She can’t accept any more loss, but is in danger of destroying everything she loves – including her relationship with Ollie and her own long-held career ambitions.
I honestly can’t begin to say how emotional, how heart-wrenching and yet how deeply fulfilling I found this story.
I loved the rich description the Eves’ family life – they blend eastern and western values seamlessly in their life in Hong Kong, with Marlowe and Harper’s grandmother Wai Po providing a backdrop of Chinese traditional culture in her cooking and cleaning and cossetting of the girls.
Their father James is an empathetic character and even Irene, their “stepmonster” has her strengths.
As for Louis! He’s as charming and loveable as Harper – it’s easy to see how they were drawn together like moths to a flame.
On the subject of moths and butterflies, they make a lovely background metaphor to Marlowe and Harper’s story. Just like her beloved butterflies, Marlowe wants nothing more than to protect the fragility of her sister’s life.
But is she actually holding back Harper’s chance to gain wings and fly free, safe in her own decisions?
The title of this book When Things Are Alive They Hum grows ever more poignant as the story progresses. As long as Harper’s heart beats, she hums with love, vibrancy, courage and hope.
Marlowe must learn to let her heart do the same.
When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent, published by Ultimo Press is available in hardback and ebook
About the Author
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hannah Bent has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. She was the 2013 recipient of the Ray Koppe Young Writers Award for her novel as a work in progress.
When Things Are Alive They Hum is her debut novel, inspired by her sister Camilla who is living with Down syndrome. She says, “Our relationship has taught me so much about love, life and grief. I do hope that some of the gifts that Camilla has given me may now be passed onto you through this story.”