Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding

In the bestselling tradition of A Man Called Ove and the beloved film Love Actually, a quirky, socially awkward man goes on a quest to find his wife a last-minute Christmas gift and encounters several distractions—including bumping into his ex-girlfriend who was the one who got away.

Henry Quantum has several thoughts going through his head at any given time, so it’s no surprise when he forgets something very important—specifically, a Christmas gift for his wife, which he realizes on the morning of December 23. Henry sets off that day in search of the perfect present for her: a bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume. But much like Henry’s ever-wandering mind, his quest takes him in different and unexpected directions, including running into the former love of his life, Daisy. His wife, meanwhile, unhappy in her marriage, is hiding a secret of her own. And Daisy, who has made the unsettling choice of leaving her husband to strike out on her own, finds herself questioning whether she and Henry belong together after all.

A sweet, funny, and touching debut from author Pepper Harding shows how the seemingly insignificant events of one single day can change our lives forever—perhaps, if we’re lucky, for the better.

Rating: 1 Star

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wanted to like this book because I like the idea of socially awkward characters, having read The Rosie Project Graeme Simsion and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I also really love the movie Love Actually, so when the summary for this book mentioned two of the three I was excited because that sounded like it would be a good recommendation.

I was disappointed straight off by the writing style. It was mind numbingly slow for the first 40% mostly due to the character, Henry, that was being focused on. His chapters were micro detailed regarding everything that he was thinking of and not in a charming way. There was a chance that the book could have been saved if the characters had been engaging or if the plot had been more character driven, but they were horrible human beings. Perhaps not the worst of the worse, but I will explain how I felt about the primary characters and why they made the book even more unlikable.

Henry was an exasperating character. His internal monologue, which made up the first part of the book, rambled on and made it hard to get to know him, other than that he couldn't keep himself together mentally. It's a miracle he was able to do his job, given the tangents that his brain was likely to take every waking moment. He also had a few disgusting moments, one of which occurred very early on and left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the book. As he's examining a coworker, he has the following thought process:

"He knew women hated when men objectified them this way. And he hated that he objectified them. But jeez, he was a guy. And it was hard, really hard, to change fifty thousand years of objectifying women." *

That sounds wrong to me. He's making excuses based on biology, like he doesn't have a brain in his head to use when making decisions, like his maleness will override his common sense and it will be okay because it's "really hard". I wanted to give up on the book shortly after this because as I kept reading, my mind kept coming back to this quote and how horrible it made me feel towards him. I went forward, though, to see if perhaps there might be some sort of revelation that would change his way of thinking, or an event that would propel him toward being a better person.

There was never anything of the sort. Any interaction he had with his wife, Margaret, was awkward and that's putting it lightly. He goes on for ages moaning about how he's not sure how their life has come to this point, how he knows he's in the doghouse but he's not sure how he got there, but then he treats her callously, speaks to her like she's a bother. It's no wonder he's in the doghouse; the wonder is that they've managed to stay together this long, especially considering that both of them have had or are having affairs.

Which brings me to Margaret and Daisy. We meet Daisy for the first time near the end of Henry's first part of the story and she seems to be the only one that has any regret for the affair they had that was a betrayal of both their marriages. Henry, on the other hand, specifically says:

Did he feel any regret for his transgressions? No, he did not. She even accused him: "Don't you feel the slightest bit guilty?" When he told her the truth, "No, I don't," she shook her head sadly. *

How am I supposed to feel anything but contempt for this character? It isn't even like some books where the villain or the antihero has some sort of feature that makes him relatable or interesting, something that makes his actions forgivable. Henry has none of those things and I hate that he treated his wife this way and that Daisy helped him to do it.

Not that Margaret is a saint in this. She certainly had her faults and they were much the same as Henry's, because although his affair was four years ago and he presumably hasn't cheated since then, her's is the one that is current and more in our faces. She's quite self centered as well, as evidenced when she's on her way to see her lover, Peter. She's stopped because of traffic due to a jumper on the bridge and, when she's been there for awhile because of it, she gets out and has this conversation with another person stopped on the road.

"It seems to me if you want to kill yourself, go ahead," she said.
"Yeah, but what if it's some teenager? Or your brother or husband or sister?"
"Don't you think people should be able to do what they want?"
"You really believe we should let troubled people kill themselves?"
"I'm sure you're right," she said to mollify him... * 

What the hell is wrong with someone that they would prefer someone die so that they can get on with their day, their morally corrupt day by the way, than wait and possibly get some help that would save their lives? And then...

She bolted from the car, vaulted over the traffic barrier, bulldozed her way through the bleating crowd on the walkway, grasped the railing with both hands, leaned out as far as she could over the icy waters, craned her neck in the direction of the inept gaggle of police and firemen and medics, and screamed at the top of her lungs, "Let the fucking bitch jump!" *

I was flabbergasted at this point. As bad as she was, I can't believe she actually said that. I can't believe the author actually did that. There was nothing that could save Margaret in my eyes after her incredibly selfish and insensitive behavior, thus reading her following chapters made the book feel like more of the chore than Henry's chapters ever did.

Daisy's part of the book was minimally better than Henry and Margaret. She was neither too detail oriented or flighty like Henry, nor was she as cruel as Margaret. However, she was a good person either. I was convinced after reading this part that not a single adult in this entire book is a good person. Every single adult we've met that's been introduced as a main character or as significant to a main character is a cheat. Henry, Margaret, Peter - Margaret's lover, Daisy- Henry's former lover, Edward - Daisy's ex-husband, even Denise - a co-worker of Henry's comes onto him heavily and tries to sleep with him after everyone's gone home for the day. Not one person had any sense of pride or honor. Henry even goes so far as to hint that it's Margaret's fault that he had an affair:

Even so, he hadn't wanted an affair. For years he'd been living in the shadow of Margaret's indifference, waiting for the light to return, which sometimes it did in little flashes that might illuminate a walk or an evening at home. But the main light never did return, and when Daisy appeared, how could he avoid naming that darkness and running toward the flame held out to him? *

By this point, which was 93% of the way through the novel, I didn't think he could make me dislike him anymore, but as much as I dislike his wife for all her faults, his blaming her is uncalled for and he does not get a pass on this.

The ending itself was rather open ended and unfulfilling. With all of the horrible things that everyone did to everyone else in this book, I would have thought that the author would have attempted to give them a redeeming end, something for the reader to hold on to knowing that the characters would be alright, but that isn't what we get. What we get is terrible people doing terrible things and getting nothing right in the end.

*Quotes taken from an unfinished galley and may be changed in the final edition. 

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