The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland
Release Date: 19th April 2018
Ailsa Rae is learning how to live. She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure.
But . . . Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point. She knows she needs to find her father. She’s missed so much that her friends have left her behind. She’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. And now she barely knows where to start on her own.
And then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one-time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.
But her new heart is a bold heart.
She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .
Back in 2017 I picked up Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland and fell in love, the plot, the characters, the writing style but particularly Loveday Cardew. It’s become a book that I’ve reread a few times since and continue to love, but when Stephanie Butland released The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae, I was so excited to read it that I ended up not reading it for several months. Not until a few months ago at least and have to say I loved it!
The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae was completely different from my experience with Lost For Words, told through a mixture of blog posts and written completely in the present tense which surprised me a little and took a while to get used too. I suppose I am more used to reading fiction in the third person as opposed to present tense – perhaps this doesn’t make sense but if you tried the book then you would see what I mean.
Set in Edinburgh, the novel starts with Ailsa’s blog and revelation that her hospital has found her a heart and with that, she will live for sure since her heart has been failing more and more. Ailsa has always been ill, born with a heart defect which has meant most of her life being in and out of hospitals and under continuous care – the transplant doesn’t just mean her life is saved but it’s the chance to change her life completely. I really enjoyed that this story focused more on the ‘after’ receiving a heart transplant rather than the lead up to Ailsa receiving her new heart. As she begins her journey getting used to her new life, she regularly sets up polls on her blog and has her audience choose what she will embark on next. Selecting a few options from what to wear, what activity to try out or even what diet to go on, Ailsa always follows what her audience selects. One of the selections I particularly liked was that Ailsa had to take up tango lessons.
Throughout the novel, we not only see Ailsa as she begins to acclimatise with her new lifestyle, but we also see the redefinition of her relationship with her mother, Hayley. For her whole life, Ailsa’s relationship with her mother has been mostly defined as carer and caree rather than the stereotypical mother/daughter relationship. Ailsa’s relationship with her mother, Hayley is so important throughout the novel and one which I enjoyed reading about and seeing it evolve.
Not only this, but we watch Ailsa’s journey as she begins to live like any other person and the struggles which come from that, her first job, new friendships and different opportunities to what she has had before. I found this particularly interesting because I had never read a book about transplants before and especially not after the transplant.
However, I especially liked that despite receiving a transplant, Butland doesn’t make it appear that Ailsa is all well and fine forever, but puts more emphasis on the fact that Ailsa is still ill. She is on tablets for the rest of her life to stop her body rejecting her new heart, she has to be overly cautious on public transport and interactions with others – always keeping a hand sanitiser in reach – and need for her to improve her fitness and health.
As the novel progresses, Ailsa encounters Seb, a celebrity actor and fellow transplant receipt. Seb underwent a corneal transplant following a serious eye infection and meets Ailsa as they are both interviewed about their experiences receiving a transplant. As Ailsa and Seb interact more and more, Ailsa reflects on her first love Lennox who died while waiting for a transplant. I really felt for Ailsa as you could see her being pulled to remain seated in the past and hold onto her memories of Lennox and being pushed by Seb and learning to live and do everything that she never thought possible.
Overall, Stephanie Butland undertakes a thought-provoking subject and creates a unique, honest and raw narrative. Her writing style is so emotive that you can’t help but connect with the variety of characters that appear throughout. Both Loveday and Ailsa are strong female characters but show their strength in different ways as they both begin their own journeys to move past trauma and grief and towards reconnecting with others around them.
Have you read any of Stephanie Butland’s novels?