The Spoiled Heart


Some writers have a gift for making ordinary lives as compelling as anything you’d find in an epic adventure. This ability to chart the human condition goes beyond technical proficiency or what we’d generally consider literary merit. Sunjeev Sahota has this gift, and his latest novel, The Spoiled Heart, wrings maximum emotional impact out of a seemingly unremarkable life. 

The Spoiled Heart centers on Nayan, a working-class man living in England who was devastated by a tragic loss two decades earlier. Ever since, Nayan has thrown himself into his union, and into caring for his aging father. He’s never wanted much of a romantic life, until the standoffish and oddly beguiling Helen Fletcher returns to town. Nayan finds himself drawn to Helen, even as she seems determined to push him away, and as a union election threatens to consume his world. What draws Nayan to Helen? What drives him to keep pushing, both for her and for success as a union leader? What makes a man like Nayan tick? 

These are the questions that Sahota’s narrator, an acquaintance and eventual friend of Nayan’s, sets out to answer, and it’s through this narrator’s eyes that the particular brilliance of The Spoiled Heart becomes clear. By framing Nayan’s story through the eyes of another storyteller, Sahota digs deep into the psyche of his protagonist, while asking provocative questions about whose story this really is and how much of it is true. There’s an element of voyeurism that lends something thrilling and incisive to the whole story.

Sahota’s prose is as precise, confident and startlingly wise when describing the depths of tragedy as the banalities of a transaction in a local shop. Nayan’s internal life, as a broken man who’d rather fix others than himself, is rendered in powerful, stealthily profound sentences, and all the while it’s accompanied by the sense that the author is building to something bigger, darker and more revelatory. When Sahota finally reaches that moment in The Spoiled Heart‘s final pages, it feels both shattering and strangely inevitable.

The Spoiled Heart is one of those books that will take root quickly and grow in your soul. It’s another powerful achievement for Sahota, and a novel that even readers who are leery of contemporary realism will enjoy.

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