Posted on May 24, 2016
The Dyslexic Hearts Club by Hanneke Hendrix
Three women, all suffering with burns of varying degree, are brought together in a hospital room which has a policeman parked outside the door 24/7.
Anna Van Veen, recovering from a collapsed lung, cuts and burns, is a loner. She is ‘not a people’s person’ and ‘not really one for friends’. Although she married Nelis she much preferred spending time with dead animals (she is a taxidermist) than her husband’s friends and work colleagues. Nelis once told her that she had a dyslexic heart.
Vandersteen, a lesbian in her fifties, has recently separated from her wife who has taken their two children away as she can no longer put up with Vandersteen’s lies.
The third occupant, in her twenties and known as Tubby (she is considerably overweight), is the most severely burnt of the three women and does not speak to the others at the beginning. She refuses to reveal her identity, even to the hospital and, referred to as Ms X, she is something of an enigma.
The three women of the guarded room get to know each other and we learn that Van Veen is destined for a prison cell, Vandersteen is a habitual criminal and Tubby is afraid of being found. Each with their secrets, bonds form between them as they begin to trust each other. Van Veen can see they are all faulty is some respect and declares them members of The Dyslexic Hearts Club. She feels comfortable in their company.
‘All day long I found myself laughing at any old thing. I was inquisitive. I was cheerful. What the hell was wrong with me?’
They all begin to recover and when Tubby reveals how she got burnt, and how afraid she is of being discovered, they all decide it is time to escape before it’s too late. Once outside the confines of the hospital room they are forced to beg, borrow and steal for survival. As they make their way to an island where Van Veen’s childhood home stands empty, evading capture becomes difficult; news of their escape is all are over the newspapers and TV. Cracks appear in their friendships and Van Veen reverts back to her desire to be alone, realising that,
‘This club of ours was driving me up the wall…All my reasons for hating clubs so much began to rear their ugly heads’.
The story of The Dyslexic Hearts Club is told by Van Veen. There is a nice slow build up as the personalities of the women are revealed. They are all troubled in some way which draws them closer. It is an entertaining story filled with adventure and humour yet Hanneke Hendrix has also shown the difficulties faced by those who do not always follow society’s rules; that the world is not always a nice place for those who are ‘different’ in some way. Although we all play roles in society, those who lack the social skills to integrate easily have to try much harder at playing their roles.
The story also highlights how unkind people can be, forcing those on the receiving end to react with a vengeance brought on purely by the cruelty of others. Van Veen, as a child, was happy to be alone working on her animals but her mother thought she was strange, as did the neighbours children causing her to violently attack one of the children when they were nasty to her.
Hendrix reveals further insight into human nature when Vandersteen believes the nurse is insulting and rude to Tubby about her weight because it makes the nurse feel better about herself. Such subtle observations, slipped into the narrative, add a deeper dimension to the story.
It is an enjoyable book full of antics and adventure but beneath the light hearted exploits of Van Veen, Vandersteen and Tubby, Hanneke Hendrix has captured some of the flaws of the human condition. It provides food for thought with respect to one’s own behaviour when in the company of others who do not always possess the required social skills to fit comfortably into the expectations of society.
Well worth a read.
You can follow Hanneke Hendrix on Twitter: @AMHHendrix