Cover image for Excessive joy injures the heart
Excessive joy injures the heart
Harvor, Elisabeth.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2002]

Physical Description:
328 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: [Toronto] : McClelland & Stewart, Ltd., c2000.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Anxious, insomniac, and adrift in her life, Claire Vornoff drives out into the country to become a patient of Declan Farrell, and an education of sorts begins. An iconoclastic practitioner of alternative medicine, Farrell is magnetic and unsettling, and Claire tries in vain to resist him. As she dreams her way through her life, all the while refusing to listen to her friend Libi's dire pronouncements, her attachment to Declan Farrell deepens, and soon she finds herself caught up in a series of unexpected and startling events.
Set mainly in Ottawa and Toronto, this stunning novel charts the anatomy of obsession, capturing along the way the dilemmas of contemporary urban life. Harvor creates an erotically charged atmosphere, always alert to the pathos of love's ambiguities. Bold, original, astute, and above all deeply human, Excessive Joy Injures the Heart reveals things about us we didn't know we knew. This is truly an outstanding debut.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Claire, a young divorced woman suffering from insomnia (and, from the reader's point of view, a massive case of self-absorption), is the center of the debut novel by acclaimed Canadian short story writer Harvor, author of Let Me Be the One (1997). Claire works in a doctor's office and is studying for a graduate degree in literature, but neither of these occupations engage her with the level of fervor attendant on her search for some sort of alternative cure-all medical treatment. Declan Farrell becomes her therapist and emotional focus, but their intense and unorthodox relationship has little if any effect on her symptoms. Claire's perception of color and smell seem heightened, a state reflected in her descriptions of and reactions to the world, and these passages provide the book's most defining moments. It's surprising that even though her problems aren't solved and, ultimately, the reader's knowledge and understanding of Claire remain limited, she is nonetheless captivating. Perhaps in novels, like therapy, it's the process rather than resolution that matters. --Danise Hoover

Publisher's Weekly Review

Canadian short story writer Harvor (Let Me Be the One) casts a cool, observant eye on an aberrant facet of romantic obsession in her debut novel. Claire Vornoff is in her late 30s, ambiguously single (separated permanently from her husband). She works as a nurse/receptionist for an Ottawa general practitioner, while taking literature classes at a university. Lonely, unmoored and plagued by chronic insomnia, she consults an acupuncturist and holistic healer, Declan Farrell, to whom she confesses that she's "just a little bit obsessive." As Declan's piercing, intrusive questions penetrate Claire's protective layers of emotional numbness, she develops an obsessive need to be with him. Declan is a Lawrentian figure, alternately sympathetic and brutal, honest and condescending, who betrays flashes of violence beneath his arrogant assurance. In some respects, he frees Claire from her limitations; she learns to drive a car so that she can drive to Declan's compound outside Ottawa, where Declan lives with his wife and children. Trying to break free of her feelings for him, Claire has a sexual encounter with a man she meets at a party. Afterwards, when she asks Declan to determine whether she is pregnant, she feels an even greater level of intimacy with him. Even after she has seen the corruption in Declan's New Age-y soul, Claire feels drawn to him, and only after a terrifying, physically abusive session does she gain the strength to terminate their relationship. In lucidly charting Claire's emotional and erotic attachment, Harvor is reminiscent of a classic novelist of another generation, Christina Stead and, like Stead, Harvor has a masterly grasp of the psychological states of women on the margins of society. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Harvor's first novel follows Claire Vornoff neurotic, self-involved, and passive through a series of entanglements with vile and opportunistic men. Claire suffers from a host of nebulous ailments, including insomnia, dizziness, and anxiety. In search of a cure, she traipses from one New Age charlatan to another, each of whom exploits her without much protest or even notice on her part. She falls in love with Declan Farrell, a holistic body worker with wandering hands and a talent for emotional manipulation. Their relationship sputters along without much direction until Claire finally breaks free. Several months later, she learns that Declan has committed suicide. All of this could make for an interesting book, but it doesn't. Claire's pallid, dreary tale is unleavened by inspired writing or a fresh perspective on romantic relationships, and her endless credulity is painful to witness. Further, Harvor's language is loose and melodramatic, with countless random, awkward metaphors introduced and promptly abandoned. By the end, what little has actually occurred seems trifling and self-important. Not recommended. Karen Munro, MLIS student, Univ. of British Columbia, Vancouver (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



BECAUSE THE STOREKEEPER IS WEARING A WHITE butcher coat he makes her think of a movie she went to with her husband once-back in their married days- a movie in which a butcher (who was also a psychopath) courted a beautiful woman with fresh cuts of meat. He would appear outside the little schoolhouse where the woman was giving lessons to her students, the newly sawed leg of some animal wrapped up in pink butcher paper, a florist's twist where its hoof would have been. The memory of the shock she'd felt when what she had taken to be a bouquet of flowers appeared, in the camera's close-up, to be a crude rosette of red meat instead of red petals, makes her almost jump when Habib bows to present her with a bouquet of actual flowers."Thanks, Habib, but what's the occasion?""Spring is the occasion. And to celebrate this rare Canadian phenomenon we are making a small presentation of flowers. But only to our very best customers.""In other words, to all your customers.""Yes," Habib tells her. "All."SPEARED AND FURLED IN THEIR GREENISH GLASS JUG, the irises have a churchy but phallic look. She places the jug on the windowsill above the kitchen sink, then carries the tulips, in a clear glass pillar, to the room whose sofa looks out over the muddy back garden. But before she was awarded the flowers she was perched on another sofa-the sofa at the Fowler Institute-waiting to see which of the Institute's four doctors would turn out to be her doctor. The doctors at the Institute were medical doctors who no longer practised medicine. In fact, the friend who'd recommended the Institute to her had referred to her own Institute doctor as a psychoanalyst who was also a gymnast. It was clear that these doctors weren't the sort of doctors who would attire themselves in the white lab coats of butchers or shopkeepers, they were the sort of doctors who attired themselves in the jeans and checked shirts of farm boys. One of them had come out of a consultation room to look for a chart. He was wearing a midnight-blue corduroy jacket along with his jeans. She had hoped he wouldn't turn out to be her doctor. He was attractive, certainly, but there was something really quite sad about his shoulders. He had also seemed to be somewhat shy. While he was sliding a chart into a wall of charts he had coughed briefly and she had imagined his skin: warm with fever.When he'd said, "I wouldn't dream of it," she had secretly studied him, uneasy and puzzled, from where she was lying on the treatment table, one arm bent under her head. With his long sideburns and his long-waisted blue corduroy jacket he'd made her think of a doctor from another century. But his voice came out of the modern world and was modernly hoarse. Well, naturally; he had a cold. She had smiled up at him. "Why wouldn't you dream of it?" (She'd half-thought he would say, "Because you are too intelligent.")"Because you are living too much up in your head.""I'm too skeptical to be hypnotized?"The smile in Excerpted from Excessive Joy Injures the Heart by Elisabeth Harvor All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.