It was the cover that did it for me, and one that I continued to glance at long after reading: an image of a woman’s head, spliced with that of a swan.
Eli Goldstone’s debut novel Strange Heart Beating is darkly funny as it begins after the death of Leda, who was killed by a swan. The irony is noted and mused upon by her husband Seb. In the wake of her death, he begins to realize he never truly knew the woman he was married to. After unearthing some unopened letters, Seb travels to Latvia in an attempt to investigate the woman he called his wife; he journeys from a concrete world of academia and rationality to a place seeped in emotion and ruled by spontaneity.
On the surface the novel is a modern musing on grief and loss, but underneath it is a dark take on the meaning of marriage, and the roles within that traditional institution. Seb’s journey is a pilgrimage of sorts – he hunts, drinks, waits, thinks. He asks locals about Leda, drawing out any information he can, desperate to fit her history into his own version of her.
In its own way, Strange Heart Beating mocks millennials. Goldstone writes Seb as a washed up Londoner who gets too philosophical at parties. It goes a step further in suggesting that Seb’s grief for his wife may not be for her per se, but for who he thought she was. It feels as if the novel is a critique of the millennial obsession with curating the perfect image of ourselves.
I know how easy it is to create a face, especially with the internet permeating every aspect of my life. I wear a badge that reads “cooler online”. And it’s true, I am way cooler online – because it’s the aspects of my life that I choose to show. But Leda took this a step further through the curation of an offline life.
During the constant onslaught of news stories about the objectification of women, which I read on the daily, and the endless obsession with persons as possessions, Strange Heart Beating muses on the story of a woman who chose not to disclose her entire story. She chose not to be a possession. The novel chronicles the downward spiral of the man who has begun to realize that the woman he loved had a narrative that did not include him.
In perfect prose, Goldstone has composed a criticism of the idea that possession is inherent in love. It was cathartic to read a novel that deviates from the traditional trope of women as objects to acquire. It’s heartbreaking that Leda had to die for her husband to recognize that she was not a thing to own: to have and to hold. But instead she was a being unto herself – as we all should be.