#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · Better Reading Preview · contemporary fiction

Better Reading Preview: When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent

Title: When Things are Alive They Hum

Author: Hannah Bent

Published: July 28th 2021

Publisher: Ultimo Press

Pages: 384

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4 stars

My hum… will be in everything, the wind, the sea, the sand, the air, in you.

A beautiful, moving, wondrous celebration of life in the vein of The Signature of All Things and My Sister’s Keeper.

​Marlowe and Harper share a bond deeper than most sisters, shaped by the loss of their mother in childhood. For Harper, living with what she calls the Up syndrome and gifted with an endless capacity for wonder, Marlowe and she are connected by an invisible thread, like the hum that connects all things. For Marlowe, they are bound by her fierce determination to keep Harper, born with a congenital heart disorder, alive.

Now 25, Marlowe is finally living her own life abroad, pursuing her studies of a rare species of butterfly secure in the knowledge Harper’s happiness is complete, having found love with boyfriend, Louis. But then she receives the devastating call that Harper’s heart is failing. She needs a heart transplant but is denied one by the medical establishment because she is living with a disability. Marlowe rushes to her childhood home in Hong Kong to be by Harper’s side and soon has to answer the question – what lengths would you go to save your sister?

When Things Are Alive They Hum poses profound questions about the nature of love and existence, the ways grief changes us, and how we confront the hand fate has dealt us. Intensely moving, exquisitely written and literally humming with wonder, it is a novel that celebrates life in all its guises, and what comes after.


‘It is not a secret that when things die they still hum; it just changes. After the dum, da drumming of a heart, it becomes a feeling that floods the air like music.’

Debut author Hannah Bent makes a big splash on Australia’s publishing world with her tender, touching, empathetic and thought-provoking novel, When Things are Alive They Hum. A considerate story with a meaningful title that encourages us to stop for a moment and listen carefully to the beating heart of life or ‘hum’, this is a unique read from a new storyteller. Defined by purposeful and rhythmic prose, with some beautiful instances of alliteration, When Things are Alive They Hum intimately follows the lives of two sisters. While at first Marlowe and Harper seem very different, it is clear that they are in tune with one another implicitly. Bent’s debut leaves a deep impression on the reader. I appreciated the dual perspective changeover that Bent utilises to help us better understand the thoughts, feelings, fears, flaws, concerns, passions, and opinions of her two leads. When Things are Alive They Hum also provides essential commentary on a number of issues such as intellectual disability, terminal illness, heart disorders, transplant procedures, love, friendship, family tensions, grief, loss, sisterhood, care, ethics, morality and mortality. Above all, Bent’s novel proved to be a stimulating read. The shadow of the Hong Kong and Shanghai backdrop draws in influences such as authority, culture, society, morals, laws and economics, exposing a flawed system where to save the person you love, you ultimately need to sell your soul. For me, the stark contrast between these two very different sisters made this book a very special read. I loved Marlowe’s viewpoint, her loyalty to her sister and passion for her studies in the rare butterfly species field. This made for a fascinating character journey. Harper is a remarkable woman, who sees her ‘up syndrome’ as an opportunity to share her wide eyed and infectious love of life, her family, friends and partner, until the very end of this sad but uplifting tale. When Things are Alive They Hum is poignant, sensitive and graceful. Thanks to this special read, I predict many great things to come for this debut writer.

When Things are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent is published on 28th July 2021 by Ultimo Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of When Things are Alive They Hum, Hannah Benthere.

*Thanks is extended to Better Reading/Ultimo Press for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

When Things are Alive They Hum is book #65 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

2 thoughts on “Better Reading Preview: When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent

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