It’s quite hard to avoid using cliches when writing about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which has been on my shelf waiting to be read for nearly 20 years. This paperback copy cost 40p! I loved it. Set in the southern states of the USA in the years when Europe, and America were in the shadow of fascism, this book explores the political scene, and the human condition in a way that is both truly original and incredibly convincing. Amongst its characters a black doctor, with Marxist convictions, alienated from his family, who do not share his political agenda or intellectual interests, and a drunken funfair attendant with similar Marxist views. In one memorable scene they futilely share their political ideas, with mutual incomprehension across the divide of race and education.
Communication is at the heart of the novel – along with love. The deaf and dumb man, ironically named Singer, is the nearest to a hero and certainly the focus of the novel. Because he seems to listen, four characters unburden their hearts to him, whilst he yearns for the fat, crazy, drunken Greek, now in a mental asylum, and previously his room mate. He cannot, or does not tell them about this love; mistakenly they see him as a kind of gifted philosopher, looking to him for an illumination that never comes.
There are scenes which are incredibly moving, and McCullers evokes sympathy for everyone of her unique and very human characters as they stumble across the pages, trapped, or becoming trapped in a world that is just so full of pain, and awaiting a redemption which is there, Every Nite at 7.15, but which none of them can find. Only Biff, who continues to give, offers some form of hope.