Tyler Keevil’s novel Your Still Beating Heart begins with a random and unimaginable tragedy, which dramatically alters the trajectory of one woman’s life, and those she’ll now encounter along the way.
All it takes to change your life is a single moment.
A random stabbing on a London bus leaves a young woman widowed and detached from her previous world. Stripped of a future that should have been hers, she impulsively books a trip to Prague – the city where she and her husband got engaged. But in the midst of a bleak winter, isolated and numb, she can do little more than wander the cobbled streets – until she receives an intriguing proposition.
There’s a job for someone just like her. All she needs to do is pick something up, and drive back. Just once. Only ever once.
We don’t discover her name until later in the book but Tyler Keevil’s protagonist is a young Welsh woman living in London who goes to the cinema with her husband, Tod, and afterwards, on the bus on their way home, he’s stabbed. In the space of a moment, Tod’s wife becomes a widow, his attacker is arrested, and their fellow bus passengers post mobile phone footage on YouTube.
Without any warning one life ends, and another veers off course in response. Tod’s widow hands in her notice and, while it’s where he proposed to her, something rather more bleak than romantic lies behind her impulse to fly to Prague. The people she encounters and the ensuing choices she makes once there will propel her on a dangerous and decidedly dodgy odyssey, far removed from anything she—or I—could have predicted. It’s a wild ride, that’s for sure, and all stems from a simple con that partially misfires, putting her into the path of people who offer her a one-off cash job.
When she agrees to make a cross-border road trip to collect something, it tests her nerve, as well as her street smarts and ability to think on her feet. Before it culminates in a jaw-dropping finale on the shores of a lake, it will have become a heart-pounding race against time and a desperate bid to outwit and outrun her pursuers in an attempt to reach home. All of which might determine whether she lives up to the moniker one of them gives her.
I felt a real sense of push and pull with this story, being drawn in by this young woman’s sudden, tragic loss and concerned for her mental state and well-being, as she navigates the aftermath. But then she almost repels any feelings of kindness or compassion generated in the reader, as much as she does with those shown by other characters. She’s so set on being self-contained and not letting anyone help her or get close to her. At first, I thought that this odd disconnect I felt between me and the narrator derives from her state of shock at witnessing Tod’s murder, and later as a result of grief. When Tod dies, so does a part of her and she shuts down emotionally.
Not learning her name until we’re a good way into the novel also might contribute to this feeling. But there’s more to it than that, with Tyler Keevil making clever use of the second-person narrative in Your Still Beating Heart to give the illusion of intimacy between the reader and his protagonist, while still holding us at a distance. It’s something he makes work incredibly well for him throughout the book, each time directing where we’re headed—shifting around characters and reader alike, as if moving us across thin ice that could crack at any second and having us ready to jump—which ultimately brings us out at that powerful and utterly chilling denouement of his.
Your Still Beating Heart shows how quickly life can change and career off in an unexpected direction, one that tests our choices, challenging our morals and our very sense of self. Tyler Keevil’s razor-sharp writing builds momentum while also raising the stakes for his young protagonist, until she risks taking a decision which places her life, and that of others, in serious jeopardy. Your Still Beating Heart is a slow burn novel, which meticulously gathers pace to become an exhilarating thriller about the sudden twists and turns of fate and how our personal choices can create a domino effect, dramatically altering the course of our life, even ending it prematurely, or making us come alive to its renewed potential.
Your Still Beating Heart by Tyler Keevil is published by Myriad Editions. It is available as an ebook and in hardback. You can buy it direct from Myriad’s Website, find it on Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where every purchase helps support your local independent bookshop.
My thanks to Emma Dowson for sending me a review copy.