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They Are Trying To Break Your Heart, David Savill

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

The most stunning thing about Savill’s debut, They Are Trying To Break Your Heart, is that it does absolutely. The passion of the author is palpable from the get go; Savill’s narrative follows the tragic events and consequences of two vastly different, but incredibly important international crisis across more than a decade. Although initially, it seems a strange and tenuous link to explore the Bosnian War of the 1990s and the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 in one novel, Savill manages to tackle both with great sensitivity, vehemence and care.

The pacing of the novel is frantic in a way that reflects how one reads the novel as it progresses; knowing that Anya, a woman who works for a human rights organisation, is heading to Thailand to meet her ex-boyfriend, William, around Christmas time in 2004 immediately sets the reader on edge – one you cant come back from throughout the novel. Tension is intense and extreme; Savill’s intricate writing style alludes to the fact that the answers you seek are already there, already waiting – that you already know, in fact – yet he continues to pull you along with the characters, fully emerging you in their journeys and allowing the natural narrative progression of the novel to take centre stage. Marko, the Bosnian brother of the man Anya goes to Thailand looking to track down after being accused of war crimes, is a relatable and genuine, and it’s impossible for readers not to empathise with his experience of the war and how it has shaped his adult life.

Savill’s storytelling is searing, painful and real. He does not gloss over the hard-hitting, sensitive matters he has chosen to write about, and it’s clear from the tone and honesty in his writing that his time as a journalist covering both of these crises has formed the basis for this novel, and that he has a personal understanding of both traumas. The note on the author at the end of the novel is well worth reading in order to gain a better insight into Savill’s relationships with both Bosnia and Thailand, adding to the authenticity of his writing.

However, the most astounding thing about the novel might well be the way in which Savill delicately and links his stories. Stories of two entirely different worlds, two entirely different times, come together under Savill’s careful guidance. The addition of extracts from various other works too adds to the authenticity and tension built throughout the book, and serve as powerful reminders to the reader that although Savill has created these characters, these situations were reality for many.

Without a doubt, Savill is one to watch. His careful research and intricate detailing make for some truly authentic writing, drawing you in and reminding you that he really is trying to break your heart – but that he will also attempt to help to heal, and bring light to some of the darkest situations imaginable.

Holly Miller

They Are Trying To Break Your Heart is published by Bloomsbury