Monday 17 March 2014


Book review: A Heart Bent Out of Shape by Emylia Hall

My edition: Paperback, published on 13 March 2014 by Headline, 400 pages.

Description: For Hadley Dunn, life so far has been uneventful - no great loves, no searing losses. But that's before she decides to spend a year studying in the glittering Swiss city of Lausanne, a place that feels alive with promise. Here Hadley meets Kristina, a beautiful but elusive Danish girl, and the two quickly form the strongest of bonds. Yet one November night, as the first snows of winter arrive, tragedy strikes.

Hadley, left reeling and guilt-stricken, beings to lean on the only other person to whom she feels close, her American Literature professor Joel Wilson. But as the pair try to uncover the truth of what happened that night, their tentative friendship heads into forbidden territory. And before long a line is irrevocably crossed, everything changes, and two already complicated lives take an even more dangerous course...


In 2012 I read Emylia Hall's The Book of Summers, which due to its flowery cover came across as a cute and flirty summer read, but it turned out to have a lot more depth than the chick-lit novel I imagined it to be. Beautifully written and non-stop engaging this was an exceptional debut and one which put the author's name on my radar. So when I read that her second novel would be released this year you can imagine my excitement, and it didn't disappoint.

A Heart Bent Out of Shape tells the story of Hadley Dunn, an American student who has lived a fairly sheltered and unimaginative life until she finds herself in the foreign and beautiful Lausanne in Switzerland. The university there is twinned with hers and while she never really considered studying abroad, she comes across the application by chance and before she knows it she is walking the vertical streets of the Swiss city and breathing the crisp air while taking in the mountains towering in the distance.

What starts of as a gentle coming of age story, mainly involving Hadley discovering new places and meeting interesting people along the way, turns into something much more profound when a terrible accident shatters what up until that point had been a blissful journey. Suddenly the city Hadley so quickly has fallen in love with shows a darker side and what follows is a confusing and emotional period for her, while at the same time the story becomes reminiscent to that of a mystery novel - which sounds like a strange combination, but it works.

Just like with The Book of Summers, the novel is set in a place that to me was foreign at the start of the story, but through the incredibly vivid descriptions - at times the sounds and smells of Lausanne practically leaped of the page while I was reading - I felt I was there with Hadley; experiencing the city through her eyes and wanderings. Not only that, but Hall managed to make it sound very appealing from a visitor's point of view and while the city wasn't on my radar before, it's now been added to my list of "must-see places".

The novel balances a beautiful setting with a poignant story in a very effective way. With lush descriptions of the people, landscape and atmosphere Hall paints a romantic and almost magical picture of Lausanne, though one with a surprisingly dark side too. The only reason A Heart Bent Out of Shape is not a five-star novel for me is that along the way it became somewhat predictable - though the ending managed to take me by surprise. I was still enthralled by the beautiful storytelling, which for me was reason alone to read this novel, but the story almost took a backseat to the prose at times.

Nonetheless, this journey of self-discovery was beautiful, fascinating, heartbreaking, haunting and ultimately very profound. A Heart Bent Out of Shape is one of those rare novels that leaves an impression long after turning the final page and for that reason I've been recommending it extensively since reading it last week. It's a memorable one, this, and I look forward to seeing what enticing foreign location Hall will invite us to next.

You can purchase a copy of the novel from Waterstones,, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with her online at:



Twitter: @EmyliaHall

Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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