‘What is heartbreak?’ asks the poet Craig Raine in his first foray into novel form. ‘You can’t break a heart.’ For Raine, the notion is ‘hyberbolic’, an ‘exaggerated claim to an impossible condition’. These pedantries aside, Heartbreak is a tender, ludic and intelligent meditation on this only-too-possible (if figurative) human state. In a series of loosely related short stories, vignettes, fictional biographies and philosophical meditations (the term ‘novel’ is a broad one), Raine imagines heartbreak as nourishing and empty; parental and erotic; mutating and fateful; tragic and banal – and, above all, as life itself.
As one would expect from a poet, Raine’s prose is thick with simile, whether he is contemplating ‘the stridulation of insects like an automatic sprinkler system’ or the voice of a throat cancer patient which ‘crackled and buzzed like a walkie-talkie’. His lyricism is turned on by erotica.