When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent

It was back in July when Laura Creyke sent me a copy of When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent and I was delighted to be invited onto the blog tour for the book by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours so that I can share my review today.

When Things Are Alive They Hum was published by Ultimo Press on 15th September 2022 and is available for purchase here.

When Things are Alive They Hum

When Things Are Alive They Hum poses profound questions about the nature of love and existence, the ways grief changes us, and how we confront the hand fate has dealt us.

Marlowe and Harper share a bond deeper than most sisters, shaped by the loss of their mother in childhood. For Harper, living with what she calls the Up syndrome and gifted with an endless capacity for wonder, Marlowe and she are connected by an invisible thread, like the hum that connects all things. For Marlowe, they are bound by her fierce determination to keep Harper, born with a congenital heart disorder, alive.

Now 25, Marlowe is finally living her own life abroad, pursuing her studies of a rare species of butterfly secure in the knowledge Harper’s happiness is complete, having found love with boyfriend, Louis. But then she receives the devastating call that Harper’s heart is failing. She needs a heart transplant but is denied one by the medical establishment because she is living with a disability. Marlowe rushes to her childhood home in Hong Kong to be by Harper’s side and soon has to answer the question – what lengths would you go to save your sister?

My Review of When Things Are Alive They Hum

Marlowe has to return home.

When Things Are Alive They Hum is an intimate, emotional and affecting exploration of the deep bond between Marlowe and her younger sister Harper who has Down syndrome.

I felt the story read rather like young adult fiction which gave it a greater realism through Harper’s individual and distinct voice. She retains a youthful optimism that feels like a tenet for Marlowe and reader alike to live their lives by. However, at the same time, Harper has a wisdom far beyond her years and, I suspect, far beyond what some in society might expect of her. What Hannah Bent does so eloquently here is to illustrate the value of those sometimes marginalised by society. Indeed, she also shows very clearly cultural expectations and prejudice not just in society at large, but also in the way Marlowe and Harper view their Stepmonster Irene, so that human frailty and judgment is very much a theme in the novel.

What I enjoyed so much was the way in which When Things Are Alive They Hum wove in past events into present actions showing just how our early lives impact who we are as adults. There’s a resonance – a humming – that echoes the title of the book, especially with the iterative images of music and Lepidoptera and through Harper’s own physical heartbeat. This book feels as if it is ‘the butterfly effect’ personified and it is somehow comforting to discover Harper’s manner of looking at the world.

Whilst much of the narrative is intense and emotional, I thought the light relief provided by Louis and his obsession with time and routine was spot on. Whilst I loved Harper the most, I felt Marlowe was more layered because she is by no means perfect, being rash, occasionally selfish and sometimes foolish as well as being fiercely loyal to Harper. That said, Harper is capable of duplicity and less than perfect behaviour too.

I found When Things Are Alive They Hum a sensitive, heart rending narrative of the choices we make to protect those we love. At the same time I thought Hannah Bent’s deeply emotional prose was uplifting, educational and highly skilled. Be prepared to have your heart broken by this one!

About Hannah Bent

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hannah Bent completed her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and Film from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London. She undertook further study in both directing and screenwriting at the Australian Film and Television and Radio School and has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. She was the 2013 recipient of the Ray Koppe Young Writers Award for her novel as a work in progress.

For further information, find Hannah on Instagram or visit her website.

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