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Fiction Literary

Mend the Living

by (author) Maylis de Kerangal

translated by Jessica Moore

Initial publish date
Jan 2016
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2016
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2016
    List Price

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Mend the Living is the story of a heart transplant, centred around Simon Limbeau, the boy whose heart is given, and his family.

Taking place within exactly twenty-four hours, the novel traces the thrill of an early-morning winter surf session, the terrible accident that follows, and all the urgency and compassion of the hospital workers, and shock and grief of Simon’s family as they negotiate the question of organ donation. Maylis de Kerangal offers glimpses into the thoughts and affective lives of each of the characters: Simon, at the core of the novel; Marianne and Sean, his parents, who have been estranged for some months; Revol, the chief surgeon, music enthusiast, and studier of hallucinogenic plants; Cordelia Owl, the capable new nurse who is reeling from a night spent with her former lover; Thomas Rémige, the hospital coordinator, an opera singer, and aficionado of goldfinches; Virgilio, the silvertongued, light-fingered surgeon; Juliette, Simon’s girlfriend, who is building a labyrinth inside a Plexiglass case, waiting for Simon’s call.

The novel also touches upon Claire, the recipient of the heart, whose life has been limited by her condition, who reflects philosophically on what it means to have someone else’s heart beating inside you.

Weaving from hospital corridors to the wild waves of the Atlantic, from the narrow streets of Paris to the countryside in Algeria where goldfinches still sing, from the most intimate details of grief within a car in Le Havre to universal considerations of science, compassion, and humanity, Mend the Living is a powerful and vast-ranging book. In her trademark masterful use of language, playing with pacing and tension and a vibrant vocabulary, Maylis de Kerangal gives us a metaphysical adventure that is at once both collective and intimate.

About the authors

Maylis de Kerangal's profile page

Jessica Moore is the author of a collection of poems, Everything, now (Brick Books, 2012), and the translator for Mend the Living (Talonbooks, 2016), a translation of the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, which was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize and won the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. Moore’s writing has also appeared recently in BOMB, Canadian Art, Arc, CV2, The New Quarterly, Carousel, The Volta and The Antigonish Review. Moore lives in Toronto, ON.

Jessica Moore's profile page


  • Winner, Wellcome Book Prize
  • Long-listed, Man Booker International Prize

Editorial Reviews

Mend the Living is the story of a transgression where the heart, liver, lungs, and other organs move beyond their role as sedentary and mortal tools of human mechanics. Here they become travellers on a long journey, and their migration from one body to another brings breath and life.”
– Hélène Vachon, author of A Matter of Gravity

“An unusual and often-ravishing novel … Ms. de Kerangal’s long, rolling sentences pulse along in systolic thumps, each beat punctuated by a comma; they’re packed with emotional intensity and florid imagery … The entire hospital in this book pounds with life.”
New York Times Books

“A work so moving, so richly layered it strikes you less like an object and more like something divine – like the heart itself. … But it’s not just the unusual format that makes this novel so remarkable: it’s the spot-on rhythm of de Kerangal’s sentences … It’s not an exaggeration to say de Kerangal has written a masterpiece, a stunning feat on par with modern medicine, the love of a parent, a second chance at life.”

“Ably translated by Jessica Moore … long sentences wind across the page, taking in philosophical digressions … De Kerangal’s intellectual flights are balanced out by detailed descriptions of the donation process itself: the various diagnoses, the necessary conversations with the donor’s grieving family, the hasty delivery of the organs in their chilled containers. Throughout, the author handles this difficult subject with enormous subtlety and tact.”
The Independent

“Flamboyant writing combined with a tragic subject make the author’s fifth novel a searing, unforgettable read … [a] gut-wrenching saga … De Kerangal explores the contradiction of death enabling life. … [an] extraordinary novel that etches itself in the mind …”
Irish Times

“Heartbreaking; I’ve seldom read a more moving book … De Kerangal is a master of momentum, to the extent that when the book ends, the reader feels bereft. She shows that narratives around illness and pain can energize the nobler angels of our nature and make for profoundly lovely art. One longs for more …”
The Guardian

“De Kerangal’s novel pulses with life … It’s clear de Kerangal has done extensive research, and the novel contains a wealth of medical knowledge. But her prose is more than just technical; the writing is uncommonly beautiful and never lacking humanity. This poetic interrogation of our contemporary medical reality affords a view only literature can provide.”
Publishers Weekly

“Reading Mend the Living is like stepping into a great ocean of words, all cross-currents and waves, and you just have to dive in and let it take you where it will … De Kerangal turns her novels into multi-dimensional, emotional schematics of the situation they’re examining. Events unfold and a fuzzy cloud of words hovers around them ready to illuminate the imperceptible … Mend the Living covers a short period of time in the lives of only a few people but it reveals whole realms of experience and meaning within that scope. Reading it is a vertiginous experience that you will not soon forget.”
– European Literature Network

“The story unfolds in an intricate lacework of precise detail … These characters feel less like fictional creations and more like ordinary people, briefly illuminated in rich language … This novel is an exploration not only of death but of life, of humanity and fragility, ‘because the heart is more than the heart.’”
New York Times blog

“Moving … because of – not despite – its scientific context … The vocabulary fits each character’s stream of consciousness, challenging the reader to follow the author’s copious research into professional jargons, and teenage slang. … a novel that goes to the heart of what it means to be a human being.”
The Independent

Reviews for the French novel

“One of the most fascinating writers of her generation ... If this book, for which the author attended a heart transplant, is extremely moving, it’s partly because she brings us into the interiority of her characters by rendering each person’s relationship to time during the twenty-four hours of the story. With Mend the Living, Maylis de Kerangal moves from technical considerations to metaphysics, from exteriority to interiority. She attains ever higher heights.”
Le monde des livres

“The most outstanding [literary] achievement of the beginning of 2014 ... Mend the Living is Maylis de Kerangal’s most beautiful work to date ... Far from being simply the story of a heart transplant, this novel is a modern epic that examines our relationship to death, in as much detail as our relationship to language ... A book of such beauty it will take your breath away.”

“Maylis de Kerangal holds back (as a good novelist should) from giving answers to these enormous questions around organ donation; but she brings them up with a breathtaking acuity. One thing becomes clear in our reading: human beings are not pure spirit – the body also has soul.”
Le Figaro littéraire

“The human heart, our most elemental necessity, is the novel’s focus, both literally and metaphorically, and the story we enter is told with great heart, and great hopefulness. Written in the grand narrative tradition, the novel reads like a Greek tragedy, like a long, sumptuous passage from Homer. It’s concerns are that broad, and that timeless. There is even a Delphic chorus in the form of cheering soccer fans who are both oblivious to the events occurring in the novel and, yet, strangely, provide an accompanying song of life-giving exuberance … The novel is beautifully paced, every now and then catching its breath with brief, lighter asides and these asides are welcome because, by now, we, the readers, who have become so immersed in the story, are breathless with grief and hope ourselves.”?
Vancouver Sun

“From its glorious 300-word first sentence to the stately canopic imagery of its climactic scenes, Mend the Living, beautifully translated from the French by Jessica Moore, mimics the rhythm of the processes it depicts – the troughs and peaks of grief and protocol, of skills utilised and acceptance finally achieved.”
The Guardian

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