Heartstream by Tom Pollock
Published July 4th by Walker Books
I just wanted to see you. Before the end. A taut psychological thriller about obsession, fame and betrayal, for fans of Black Mirror. Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie. Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.
This was my first Tom Pollock novel, I had heard of him before but I had no idea what kind of books he wrote or much of anything about him. Walker Books contacted me and asked if I would be interested in an early finished copy for review and after reading the synopsis I was sold. I’ve started reading a few more thriller and psychological horror books over the past year or so, having not read anything like that at all until The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James but there are some absolute gems and Heartstream is one of them.
Heartstream is told from two different points of view, always alternating back and forth with each chapter which was equal parts infuriating (in a mostly good way) and absolute genius. Often there would be a revelation of some kind of things will just start heating up and you’re dreading the end of the chapter because you know it’s going to switch to another part of the story. It creates a whole load of tension on its own, that paired with Pollock’s fantastic tension building and writing style is a winning combination, especially as things begin to develop throughout the story.
The characters were interesting but instead of being focused on them I found I was more focused on the things that were happening to them in a terrifyingly personal way, I can remember their hair colour or details about them and they’re not bad characters but in a very fitting manner for a book featuring a software that allows you to experience others emotions first hand for yourself, the main impressions I have from them are their emotions. When the book released last week I described Heartstream as being “Slightly traumatising” one reason for this is that each emotional beat feels like it leaves a mark on you and a lot of the feelings are very intense.
For me personally I find it difficult to cope with situations where I feel there is no way out or that are seemingly hopeless and/or the main character is helpless to control things around them in any degree, (I’ve never actually seen the end of Face-Off because I decided it was a no way out thing) which are things our two main characters definitely confront throughout this novel. Some parts really terrified me in a helpless kind of way and absolutely hit some nerves for me as a mother as well, it was a little like watching a horror film in that I felt scared/freaked out but in an almost enjoyable way? It definitely lives up to the description of a psychological thriller for sure.
Tom Pollock is an incredible storyteller and Heartstream is a bold intricate tapestry with a striking red thread of tension woven in and throughout the stories of both Amy and Cat, binding them together. It captures the toxic, obsessive, abusive and entitled side of fandoms we are beginning to see more and more of lately as well as a hauntingly accurate and intense look at cyberstalking and harassment. Heartstream is gripping, yet moving, an addictive ride that will have you feeling like you’re “streaming” from the characters yourself throughout.
Have you ever experienced any fandom related moments that you felt were just too much or too far? Years ago I met with a group of other fans of “My Little Pony” and was shocked and appalled after witnessing them loudly tearing a display apart, arguing over blind bag figures and being confrontational with the staff in a toy store. I actually stopped watching the show after that and since tend to distance myself from a lot of communities since then.