Review By Gabrielle

Shark Heart is, in a word, magnificent.

Favourite Quote:

After a big morning thunderstorm, summer seemed to celebrate itself. The sky was a little too blue, and the grass was a little too green, and the daylilies, sparkling with rainwater, were perfect orange. With the heat and humidity momentarily at bay, Wren and Lewis sat on the patio on their matching lounge chairs, watching the clouds fill with bright white light and absorbing the “weatherlessness” (what Lewis called these fantastic departures from the vehement heat).

Goodreads Synopsis: 

For Lewis and Wren, their first year of marriage is also their last. A few weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He will retain most of his consciousness, memories, and intellect, but his physical body will gradually turn into a great white shark. As Lewis develops the features and impulses of one of the most predatory creatures in the ocean, his complicated artist’s heart struggles to make peace with his unfulfilled dreams.

At first, Wren internally resists her husband’s fate. Is there a way for them to be together after Lewis changes? Then, a glimpse of Lewis’s developing carnivorous nature activates long-repressed memories for Wren, whose story vacillates between her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time with a college ex-girlfriend, and her unusual friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds. Woven throughout this bold novel is the story of Wren’s mother, Angela, who becomes pregnant with Wren at fifteen in an abusive relationship amidst her parents’ crumbling marriage. In the present, all of Wren’s grief eventually collides, and she is forced to make an impossible choice.

Time for a confession…I have been in a terrible reading slump lately. I just haven’t really been enjoying a lot of what I’ve been reading. But here is the beautiful thing about being a bookworm; if you just keep going, eventually just the right book finds you to propel you out of your slump. And Shark Heart is the book that launched me out of mine.

When I read the description I thought, “well that sounds just quirky enough to be interesting.” Noting that it is a debut, I didn’t have high expectations. Boy was I wrong. This book is something very special.

Both lyrical and choppy, it has a unique pacing to it that I really enjoyed. Some chapters (if you can even call them that) are one sentence, others just a paragraph, while others are many pages. It really suits the story and I loved the unusual structure. I found the shorter chapters really lent a weight to the words that the reader might otherwise have rushed through. Some parts of the book are really more like poetry than prose, which I also loved.

Both Wren and Lewis are wonderfully developed characters that we get to know well. I loved both of them. I was a little concerned I wouldn’t be able to suspend my disbelief with Lewis’ condition and that it would take me out of the story, but again I was wrong. Emily writes it so well, I found myself totally immersed and believing every word. 

This story is heartbreaking, beautiful and uplifting. There are a lot of themes in this book to the point it is hard to even nail down the key ones, and they are all so masterfully done, as a reader you viscerally feel everything. Living through grief, motherhood, facing change, and the nature of true love are all expertly explored here. Parts are heavy, but then they are balanced with a lightness and some humour.

Shark Heart is a stunning debut by a very talented writer. 

Thank you, Simon & Schuster Canada for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.