Home > 1900, 20th Century, Book Club, French Literature, Novel, Reza Yasmina, TBR20 > Happy are the Happy by Yasmina Reza

Happy are the Happy by Yasmina Reza

Happy Are the Happy by Yasmina Reza (2013) French title: Heureux les heureux.

book_club_2In September, our Book Club had picked Yasmina Reza’s novel Happy Are the Happy. It’s a particular novel as each chapter is named after a character and features different persons but all are related in one way or the other. They are friends, family or colleagues. Each chapter is an excerpt of their life, a moment that sheds some light on their love life. This novel feels like wandering in a gallery of portraits in a castle with a guide who stops in front of each portrait and tells you a story about the person in front of you.

I’m afraid it’s almost all I remember from Reza’s novel that I read four weeks ago. I remember that first chapter opens on a hilarious and Frenchissime domestic row in a supermarket: husband and wife fight over which cheese to purchase that week. I vaguely remember about a burial, adultery, a diner in town, stilted exchanges between parents and children, a young man who sinks into madness and believes he’s Céline Dion.

The married characters often have a poor marriage and if they don’t, their happiness seems suspicious. Don’t give this book to someone the night before their wedding day unless you want them to have a bad case of cold feet. The people of Reza’s world are lonely. They’re married and they’re lonely, which is maybe the worst loneliness. They’re trying to capture happiness but it evades them, perhaps because they don’t have a clear vision of what happiness means for them. Not for society or their family or friends, but for themselves. The reflexions on life and marriage can be spot on:

On accepte d’un héros de la littérature qu’il se retire dans la région des ombres, pas d’un mari avec qui on partage une vie domestique. One accepts of a literary hero that he isolates himself in the land of darkness but not of a husband with whom one shares a domestic life.

In other words, you can think as hard as you want but at some point, someone needs to make diner.

It is full of insightful remarks and it doesn’t lack of humour and yet, things didn’t work for me. It Frenchy French stuff. It could be a film by Christophe Honoré with Louis Garrel playing the guy believing he’s Céline Dion. As much as I loved Comment vous racontez la partie, I was disappointed by Happy Are the Happy. In 2013, it won the Prix Littéraire by Le Monde and the Grand Prix du roman by Marie Claire. I’ve obviously missed something.

The English and the French covers of this book couldn’t be more different. The French one is a drawing by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Nacktes Liebespaar (Nude Lovers), while the American cover shows a heart.

Reza_EnglisReza_Heureux

The tone of the book is a mix of the two. The French cover implies that sex is a prominent theme, which is not true. The English cover is a bit too sentimental for the tone of the book.

I’ve read two other reviews, one by Guy and one by Tony.

  1. October 3, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Sorry it didn’t work for you. I really enjoyed it and thought the quality of the stories/scenes were very even.

    Like

    • October 3, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      True but it all seemed so futile and self-centered.
      Perhaps writing this billet after writing about Fateless/Fatelessness wasn’t a good idea.

      Like

      • October 3, 2015 at 4:55 pm

        I think we carry over reading from one book to another. Perhaps it was the author’s intent to show that self-centeredness and futility. Married couples seem to get locked into their own little worlds, and sometimes it’s a pathological world. When you mentioned the cheese fight, I chuckled all over again.

        Like

  2. October 3, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    reading the initial description I thought this would be an interesting book but then i looked at that cover. oh dear that would be such a turn off for me

    Like

    • October 3, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      Oops, big error here- I mistook the graphic for the book club for the book cover. Ignore my comment!!!

      Like

      • October 3, 2015 at 5:29 pm

        The graphic for the Book Club comes from the comics Mafalda, like my avatar.
        To read about Mafalda, click here

        Like

  3. October 4, 2015 at 2:59 am

    I find that I need to be in the mood for contemporary books about the futility of life in privileged western countries. It’s easy to find them banal, because after all, it’s mostly been done before, if not done to death.
    And, yes, if I’d just read Fateless, I would have found a book like this banal.

    Like

    • October 4, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      It’s what I mentioned in my billet about Piazza Bucarest: it’s another book in the journalist/upper class milieu and I’m tired of them too. I couldn’t finish Vernon Sullivan either.

      I’ve read Happy Are the Happy before Fateless but made the fatal mistake not to write about it right away.

      Like

      • October 5, 2015 at 12:55 am

        Well, maybe not fatal. I find that if I leave it for a bit, and then can’t remember it much, it’s probably not much of a book and it’s probably good to write a review that says so.

        Like

        • October 6, 2015 at 8:03 pm

          It’s interesting to write billets a few weeks after reading the book, it shows how much stays with you.
          I agree with you, it’s not good when a novel is so forgettable.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Tony
    October 4, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Sorry you didn’t like it – I think it’s one you might have enjoyed more if you’d been in the mood. What I liked about it was the interconnections between the pieces. Yes, it is a little like a clichéd movie (a French Woody Allen!), but it does work 😉

    Like

    • October 4, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      The interconnections were well done but a bit hard to follow.
      After our Book Club meeting, I can tell you the opinion was unanimous: nothing to write home about.
      It could be like Woody Allen if it had any of the self-deprecating humour you find in Allen’s movied.

      I have a question for you: what do you remember about it now, several weeks and books after?

      Like

  5. October 4, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    It does sound like a French Woody Allen – or I just watched on the plane Une heure de tranquillite, which is of course a comedy with some stereotypical characters but still quite funny. This one does sound like it tries to make some more serious points though. But I suppose you are right – it does depend when you read it, what book it follows, etc.

    Like

    • October 4, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      For me, it wasn’t funny enough to be compared to Woody Allen (I love Woody Allen, btw)
      While I was reading, I really thought it looked like a typical French film.

      PS: If you’ve never heard the song Court Métrage by Hubert-Félix Thiéfaine, look it up.

      Like

  6. October 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    It sounds solid, decent, but perhaps a bit pointless. I can see that writing it up after Fateless wouldn’t help, but I doubt that’s just it. It sounds more like there’s just not that much there to bite into.

    Like

    • October 6, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      “solid but pointless” is a rather good description, I’m afraid.

      Like

  1. No trackbacks yet.

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: