Book Review: Happy Are the Happy by Yasmina Reza
Synopsis (taken from the back cover of the book):
“Happy are the loved ones and the lovers and those who can do without love. Happy are the happy.” –Jorge Luis Borges
This citation of Borges resonates with every character in Yasmina Reza’s novel, except that they are never so lucky. In fact, what happens to them is the exact opposite of what they crave. The twenty short chapters that make up this unusual book deal with both marital and extramarital vicissitudes, the elusiveness of intimacy, the fear of loneliness, and the desire to be loved or at least understood just once in our lives. The mixing of tones–cruelty and despair competing with humor and fantasy–and the quality of the monologues–taut and highly original–adds to the novel’s virtuosity. This is without a doubt Reza’s most accomplished work.
This was the final book from my BEA loot. It took me almost ten months to get through the pile. Of all the books I received at BEA, “Happy Are The Happy” was by far my favorite. This was the best novel I have read in well over a year. I’ll be lucky if I find anything as inspiring and moving the next time I visit a book store.
The story follows the lives of eighteen (yes, eighteen!) individuals through their daily lives in Paris. Though at first, I was confused by the characters and their connections to each other (which, at times, are minimal), I began to realize that the novel was less about the involvement of one character’s life in the other, but rather, about their own personal journeys.
Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to husbands and wives, doctors and patients, friends and lovers, all who cross paths with each other for only a moment or so. This novel is not about one person, or even about a group of people. This is the story of what it is like to be human.
Each chapter gives insight into another relationship: In one chapter, a husband and wife fight over a piece of cheese in a supermarket; in another, a couple travels to a mental hospital to visit their son, who believes he is Celine Dion. Each story has something from the last; familiar characters are woven in and out of each chapter.
I became enamoured and obsessed with each story. I’d love to see this novel adapted to the screen or the stage.
A note about the grammar: There is no use of quotation marks or paragraph breaks in this book. While small in size, this book does not make for an easy read. You’ve been warned.
“It was like the feeling you get when you’re alone with someone and the other person withdraws into himself and you see that withdrawal as an omen of abandonment.”
“Someday someone should make a study of the silence that falls inside a car when you’re returning home after having flaunted your well-being, partly to edify the company, party to receive yourself.”
“After a while even life is an idiotic value.”
“All that our eyes can see is already in the past….things are made to disappear.”
“I have no time to put my existence into perspective anymore.”
“The influence of place on our emotions doesn’t get its just due.”
A must read for fans of high quality literary fiction.
Read more about the author here.