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A Heart That Works Book Review

A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney

After a month-long stint in the UK, much to my delight, I came back to a stack of book-shaped parcels, waiting to be unopened. My reading while back on English soil had been somewhat non-existent; other than my annual read of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, I had barely picked up a book. Plans to read hefty tomes on train trips to Somerset and Yorkshire were soon thwarted thanks to train strikes, and – given that my body clock soon adjusted to late nights and lie-ins – I no longer had the early hours of the morning to spend with my nose in a book.

And so it was that I started the year determined to read at least a hundred books, and swiftly began my first – A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney.

A Heart That Works Book Review

My first introduction to Rob Delaney was on Elizabeth Day’s brilliant podcast, How to Fail. During the episode, he spoke with great candour about his son Henry, who – aged one – was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and later, devastatingly, died.

A memoir that charts Henry’s life – from his birth in London – where Delaney, his wife, and their two young sons moved to from LA to his illness – after weeks of vomiting he is diagnosed with a brain tumour – to his family’s desperate attempts to cure his illness.

It’s hard to imagine that A Heart That Works – a memoir that recounts the tragic illness and subsequent death of his young son – could be in any way funny, but Delaney manages to write with such with and honesty, that at times it’s easy to forget how the story is going to end.

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Undoubtedly the most poignant parts of A Heart That Works are Delaney’s descriptions of caring for his son; the way in which he describes him with such vibrancy and such fervent love, and the advice he offers readers who may find themselves in similar shoes. One particular scene that shines in its vividness is when Delaney breaks the news to Rachel – one of Henry’s carers – that they are no longer going to continue Henry’s treatment when the cancer returns. Instead of the mumbled condolences that so many of us might expect, Rachel cries, and she screams, and Delaney is glad to see the pain he feels mirrored in someone who too loves Henry.

Delaney writes beautifully about how caring for – and loving – his son became almost an addiction; and the way he writes about missing the calluses that develop on his fingers from operating his son’s suctioning machine was as touching a depiction as it was cruel.

An unbearably brutal and beautiful book that I wish had never had to be written, but that I am all the better for having read. A Heart That Works is a stunning, luminous, vibrant tribute to Henry Delaney. Essential reading for us all.

A Heart That Works Summary

In this memoir of loss, acclaimed writer and comedian Rob Delaney grapples with the fragile miracle of life, the mysteries of death, and the question of purpose for those left behind.

When you’re a parent and your child gets hurt or sick, you not only try to help them get better but you also labour under the general belief that you can help them get better. That’s not always the case though. Sometimes the nurses and the doctors can’t fix what’s wrong. Sometimes children die.

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Rob Delaney’s beautiful, bright, gloriously alive son Henry died. He was one when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. An experience beyond comprehension, but an experience Rob must share. Why does he feel compelled to talk about it, to write about it, to make people feel something like what he feels when he knows it will hurt them? Because, despite Henry’s death, Rob still loves people. For that reason, he wants them to understand.

A Heart That Works is an intimate, unflinching and fiercely funny exploration of loss – from the harrowing illness to the vivid, bodily impact of grief and the blind, furious rage that follows, through to the forceful, unstoppable love that remains.

This is the story of what happens when you lose a child, and everything you discover about life in the process.

Further reading

I loved this on The New Yorker: There’s Nothing Decorous About Rob Delaney’s Grief.

Rob Delaney Author Bio

Rob Delaney has been named the “Funniest Person on Twitter” by Comedy Central and one of the “50 Funniest People” by Rolling Stone. He writes for Vice and The Guardian. This is his first book.

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