Arts Arts Editor Books Muse

Book of the Month: Heartburn

Jenna Luxon on how this month's valentines inspired read offers both romance and realism

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Image Credit: Little, Brown Book Group, 2012

I married him against all evidence. I married him believing that marriage doesn't
work, that love dies, that passion fades, and in so doing I became the kind of romantic only a cynic is truly capable of being.’

Rom-coms have us all believing that heartbreak is an opportunity. An opportunity to stare out of windows into the pouring rain, to eat copious amounts of ice cream guilt free and to cry in that delicate way where your face doesn’t get all red and puffy.

But then one day the reality of heartbreak hits you and you realise that heartbreak is none of these things. That being able to cry without looking snotty and off-putting it actually a myth and that rather than eating crap and wistfully gazing out of windows you instead somehow find yourself at the front of the queue in co-op with a basket full of shopping realising you’ve forgotten your purse or having to double back on yourself several times a day after having absentmindedly walked in the wrong direction yet again.

There is nothing glamorous about heartbreak and there is certainly nothing romantic about it. It is snotty and whiny, angry and grieving and will have you doing things you would ordinarily never dream of, like going to the library in your pyjamas or listening to Snow Patrol.

And so with this in mind, and in light of the fact that in a couple of weeks’ time we are all going to have to negotiate that much anticipated 14th February (a date that like a P.E. lesson is great for those who want to get involved and absolute hell for everyone else) that I recommend Heartburn by Nora Ephron for February’s book of month.Ideal for anyone feeling a little less than loved up this Valentine’s Day or who is just in need of a good laugh and a healthy dose of reality.

Heartburn was first published in 1983 and is Nora Ephron’s only novel. Ephron was the brains behind the now classic romantic comedies (classic in my mind at least) including Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail. She also wrote for the stage, as a journalist and penned several collections of personal essays.

Heartburn follows the story of Rachel Samsat, a cookery book writer living in New York. Rachel is seven months pregnant when she discovers that her husband Mark is in love with another woman. Based largely on Ephron’s own life and the breakdown of her second marriage, Heartburn follows Rachel through the subsequent collapse of her relationship. Oscillating back and forth between her desperately wanting her husband back and her wishing he would be carried out of the apartment in a body bag.

Raw, honest and funny; it is not hard to tell that this story is based on Ephron’s life. As the way it deals with the complexity of the emotions tied up in falling in love, and perhaps more crucially falling out of
it, is entirely believable.

Ephron somehow manages to take one of the most gut-wrenching feelings and flip it in to something that makes you laugh, a skill that is also reflected in many of her films. Although I began this review seemingly criticising romantic comedies for the lies they feed about experiencing heartbreak, in all honestly I wonder whether I would really want to sit and watch someone going through the reality of heartbreak.

Heartburn takes something rooted in the truth and spins it into something that's bearable. Of course, romantic comedies aren’t accurate to real like experiences, although I would argue that Ephron’s attempts come closer to the truth than most, but this is comforting. Watching someone else wonder around dazed, depressed and behaving like a pensioner probably wouldn't have bucked me up all that much when I was experiencing the same thing but reading about a woman in a similar position to me who was angry and ready to take on the world did a far better job.

There are a lot of things you can't control and matters of the heart is most certainly one of them, but the story you tell afterwards is one thing you control entirely. Heartburn sees Rachel Samsat take an awful situation and make the best of it, in the same way Ephron did when she took the heartbreak of her husband leaving her and spun it into a bestselling novel. Ephron walked out of that relationship laughing, and thirty odd years later she had me laughing with her.

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