• Book Review: HAPPY ARE THE HAPPY

    Book Review from The Observer (Sunday 17th August)

    Happy Are the Happy

    By Yasmina Reza

    Translated by Sarah Ardizzone

    Harvill Secker, £12.99, pp214

    “Happy are the loved and the lovers and those who can do without love. Happy are the happy”, wrote Jorge Luis Borges, the epigraph to this wonderfully witty novel, translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone, which most excels when it is exploring the roots of unhappiness.

    Each chapter is named after a character and told from their points of view, including the Toscano, Hutner, and Barnèche families. The author is also a playwright and compellingly creates moments of intense drama, exhibiting the tensions and conflicts crackling through lives.

    “Listen to how you’re talking to me! Do you have any idea of how you’re talking to me?”, protests Robert Toscano to his partner Odile as they begin quarreling in the supermarket over what food to buy, including which type of cheese. The author brilliantly unfolds such quotidian moments, showing lifetimes of frustration packed within.

    Voice is a great strength of this narrative, spliced with intense internal monologues and characters who are not only in dialogue with each other and themselves, but also with the dead: Marguerite communes with her late father, beseeching him to send somebody to share her life with, for she is struggling to live without love. “I’m going to ask him to get the geometry of my life back in shape”, she asserts. The shape of these lives is shrewdly delineated, often a skewed geometry: the character Chantal, for example, is addicted to toxic love triangles.

    Happiness is decreased for the Toscanos by comparing themselves to other families such as their friends the Hutners who seemingly have the perfect life, and yet the Hutners are pretending that their son is on an international internship; in reality he is in a mental institution, believing himself to be Céline Dion. The author skillfully peels away the surface veneer of lives to reveal the secrets seething within.

    Some of these memorable characters have everything to feel happy for and yet are perennially discontent, while others movingly manage to find happiness even in the bleakest of situations.

    Review by Anita Sethi

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