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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'Heart of the Matter' by Emily GIFFIN

Received from the publisher

Tessa Russo has the perfect life – she has two beautiful children and is married to Nick, a pediatric plastic surgeon. She is the envy of other playground mothers, and her still single friends. But she can’t help this nagging suspicion that not all is right in her world. It’s partly the fact that she left her job as a University Professor to become a full-time mum. It’s a little to do with Nick’s job, and medicine making her a jealous mistress. But it’s also her mother, pointing out all these various cracks and fissures, warning Tessa of her own broken marriage and causing her to wonder “would Nick ever?...”

Valerie is a single-mother living out her worst nightmare. A phone-call in the middle of the night, telling her to come to the hospital because her six-year-old son has had an accident. Charlie, while at a sleepover, falls into a fire and burns one side of his face and his hand. Nick Russo is called in as his plastic surgeon... and so begins Valerie’s crush on the doctor-savior, which slowly turns into infatuation, that is eventually reciprocated…

Two women. Two very different lives. One man who will force them to intersect…

This was a hard book to put down. I absolutely ate it up, largely because it feels somewhat voyeuristic. Whenever you hear or read about someone’s adulterous affair a few questions run through your head – why did they do it? Who was she? How will the wife react…? That last one is especially juicy – how is Sandra coping? Will Elin divorce him?

2010 seems to be the year of the cheater. Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Ashley Cole… you can’t walk past a newsstand without seeing garish headlines proclaiming the end of ‘Brangelina’, because Brad’s gone back to Jen (who he left for Ang in the first place!). And I must confess to eating up such tabloid stories. As a general public, we can’t help ourselves. It’s partly the fact that celebrities misbehaving will always fascinate us. But I think it’s also the fact that cheating is such a relatable issue – infidelity is like an equalizer. Whether you’ve cheated, been cheated on or know someone of the former or latter, everyone has a story about unfaithfulness.

And that’s why Emily Giffin’s book is so darn fascinating. She explores those salacious issues – not just as they relate to the scorned wife, but also the ‘other’ woman. Each chapter alters between Valerie and Tessa – and the changing perspectives make for a very fulfilling and compelling read. Through both women, Giffin is able to tease out all those scandalous and hurtful questions - observing them from two very different angles.
Giffin deals with infidelity in a very tender and real way. Her characters make mistakes, have regrets and try to pick up the pieces of their damaged lives. This is not a book of absolutes, and is all the better for it. There are no villains in this book - no black and white solutions –, which means it is relatable and firmly grounded in believability and sympathy… because life is all about the gray areas.

The only perspective not offered is Nick’s, which works very well. He remains a bit of an enigma to readers as well as Valerie and Tessa. It leaves a certain amount of mystery and uncertainty in the lives of the characters – and you will keep wondering and guessing at the outcome of their lives, right up until the last page. That level of mystique is also Giffin showing respect for her readers – she does not give direct answers to her characters problems, nor does she make excuses for them. Instead, Giffin allows readers to make up their own minds, come to their own conclusions and try to analyze the various reasons behind characters actions.

Readers are somewhat predisposed to be more sympathetic toward Tessa. It's partly the fact that Giffin is writing for a female audience, and as a whole readers will be automatically more likely to side with the wronged party, no matter the extenuating circumstances… But it's also a certain writing technique Giffin uses. Tessa’s perspective is told in first-person – making readers privy to her innermost thoughts and feelings. But Valerie’s chapters are told in third-person. It’s quite a clever method that at once distances readers from Valerie, while giving a front-row-seat to Tessa’s world. That being said, by the end of the book lines really begin to blur and Giffin garners as much sympathy for Valerie as Tessa, pushing readers to alter their condemnations and allegiances.

Then she fiddles with her diamond ring, spinning it twice around, and says, “I could never forgive Daniel if he slept with a hooker. It’s just so gross. I couldn’t forgive anything that sleazy. I’d rather he fell in love with someone.”
“Really?” MC says. “I think I could get over something physical – maybe not a hooker, but a purely physical, one-night-stand kind of thing… But if Rick actually loved someone… that’s a different story.”
April looks contemplative and then says to me, “What would bother you more, Tess? Hot sex or love?”
I consider this for a second, then say, “Depends.”
“On what?” Romy says.
“On whether he’s having hot sex with the girl he loves.”

Emily Giffin is touted as being a ‘chick-lit’ author. That term is sometimes said in a derogatory way, as though ‘chick-lit’ is a lesser literary feat. I don’t believe it is, and I think Giffin is a perfect example of why that genre tag is not at all insulting. In ‘Heart of the Matter’ Giffin is exploring an old issue with a great deal of finesse and compassion. A plot centered on unfaithfulness may be what initially ‘hooks’ readers – but it becomes pretty obviously early on that there’s a lot more going on in ‘Heart of the Matter’. Ultimately Giffin’s book is about the repercussions our mistakes have on those we love, and the tightrope we find ourselves walking between forgiveness and trust.

This is a compelling read. The plot of infidelity is juicy and salacious, but it’s Giffin’s tenderness towards her imperfect characters that will appeal and resonate.


UK, US release: 11 May 2010


  1. hmmmm very interesting... I like the idea, but I dont know if it would be my cup of tea =)

    Great review hon!

  2. I think this is the kind of book I would have dreams about and punch my husband while I sleep!

  3. I love this cover!! I can't wait to read this book - it sounds awesome! Thank you for your awesome review - loved it!!!


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