Andrew Raymond Drennan’s outstanding thought-provoking second novel follows the story of teenage girl Maggie, who lives on a drug-blighted council estate. She finds a friend in Bertrand, an elderly man who lost his childhood love in the war. When Maggie’s sister is run over and killed by a car, her parents don’t know, or don’t care, how to act at their daughter’s funeral. Father Bill is hoping to be back in time to watch the football, while his wife dreams of eloping with a non-existent lover.
For Maggie, life in a loveless home with an aggressive dad and a drunken mother equals desperation. Should she become a teenage mum so that she can love a baby for it to love her back? Does sleeping with a guy mean that he loves her? Through reading Bertrand and Rose’s love letters, Maggie learns that husbands can be lovers, not abusers, and wives don’t have to accept a lonely and unloved life. Maggie is determined to find out what real love is and to do this she will help Bertrand find his long lost sweetheart.
Rarely have I come across a novel where narrative and style complement each other as effectively as in The Immaculate Heart. It is definitely a novel to fall in love with. Drennan’s prose is distinctive, mature and simply beautiful. Maggie’s cry for help and Bertrand’s declarations of love are written with emotional clarity and serve only one purpose: to express love through the medium of words.
There is a surprising and disheartening twist at the end, yet this development is necessary for Maggie to continue her life. Maggie’s desperate plea “If you can’t find something real in this world, isn’t it OK to pretend?” shouts out to all of us who sometimes feel lost in an incomprehensible world.
The Immaculate Heart is so emotionally loaded that it is likely you will need a tissue before you reach the final pages. It ends with a beautiful poem that oozes emotion and is the essence of what we all crave: reciprocated love. Maggie’s search for love is far from over, but with her determination and positive attitude, she might escape the same fate as her parents and, like Bertrand, find love too.