Happy are the Happy

Louise Jury in The Independent:

HappyThe works for which Yasmina Reza is best known are her tightly structured plays, 'Art' and God of Carnage, and her new novel follows them in deploying a very specific form. It begins with a laugh-out-loud rendering of a lethal domestic row between journalist Robert Toscano and his lawyer wife, Odile, over the purchase of cheese in a supermarket. In its deathly ridiculousness, the description, told from the perspective of the husband, confirms Reza as a sharply observant wit. Yet just as she professed herself surprised when English-speaking audiences saw 'Art' as a comedy, the mood remains more melancholic than humorous as over a further 20 chapters and 210 pages, 18 characters get a chapter each – with three granted a second say – to recount a vignette from their lives.

…Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the strictures of the structure do allow some emotions to flow. The Hutners appear to have the perfect life but it proves anything but. At the end, the widow's reaction to the sudden end of her loveless marriage is genuinely moving and believable. The title speaks of happiness but it is the sadnesses that prevail. Paola visits the marital home of her lover Luc, surveys the decor and immediately concludes he will never leave his wife. It is hard not to agree with Jeannette Blot that “women are attracted to appalling men”. “Happy are the happy” is the second half of a quote by Jorge Luis Borges with which the novel begins and reads, more fully: “Happy are the loved ones and the lovers and those who can do without love.” So the happinesses are small; the medical secretary's memory of a cigarette shared with the son of a patient; the lover biting his tongue when the woman he realises he genuinely cares for demonstrates a painful lack of self-knowledge; the husband who throws away his newspaper of racing tips to agree to a museum visit with the wife he has publicly shamed. Most significantly, perhaps, at the end, the pleasure of two friends fishing. Reza is the mistress of subtle detail.

More here.