Lisa Grunwald: Whatever Makes You Happy (2005)

Whatever makes you happy is probably a book you either love or hate. It is a blend between fiction and  non-fiction  and very frankly this did not work for me. I found it highly artificial. But it is not boring, so that is one good thing.

Sally Faber, a 40-year-old writer, is trying to write a book about happiness. While struggling with writing she faces a lot of challenging moments in her life. Her little girls leave for the first time for two months to go to summer camp. Her mother leaves her with the challenging task to empty an appartement she owns whose inhabitant, a psychiatrist, has died without leaving any heirs.

Despite all of this Sally seems to have it all. A great live, cute girls, an understanding gentle and successful husband yet she endangers all of this by starting an affair with a megalomaniac self-centered artist who supposedly understands her better than her husband.

The idea to let us dive into Sally’s research was already quite artificial but to sort of test some of the theories by inventing this odd affair was even more so. It just did not make any sense. I did not understand what she did. In the end it felt less like a novel than like an experiment and playing around with the concept of happiness. Sure, there are quite a few insights, views and bits of information that are interesting, which is probably why many readers liked this, but it spoilt the novel for me to have it presented in this way.

Aspiring writers learn to show and not tell, and that is exactly what I would like to tell Lisa Grunwald.

I think it is disappointing because the idea of a novel about happiness appealed to me. The only bit I really liked was the way she described Sally´s feelings for her little girls. That was truly touching.

I should have known what to expect since this novel was recommended by Gretchen Rubin whose Happiness Project I found equally disappointing.  More of that in my next post

2 thoughts on “Lisa Grunwald: Whatever Makes You Happy (2005)

  1. Unfortunately I think I tend more towards pessimism and question these happiness sorts of projects. In theory it sounds good, but I think sometimes it’s not as easy for people to just ‘buck up’ and be happy or make themselves happy. At least that’s how I felt about the Happiness Project when I first came across it! Too bad about the book–it does sound like the story had potential that just didn’t quite pan out.

    • I will write about my problem with The Happiness Project in my post but in short: I do not understand Rubin’s definition. To me it is far too materialistic. And most of her suggestions are for people with money. I had the feeling that to have money was a given. The type of happiness she proclaims is hard to have when you are poor. I am far from being poor myself but I tend to think a bit more universally. What does not apply for every human cannot be happiness as happiness is a universal concept, like love. What she calls happiness is materialistic well-being. Reception of Rubin’s book is poor or bad in Europe. Eat, pray, love was more fun to read but it is not very far away from concepts à la Rubin.
      As for Grundwald I would still try another one of her books as you can see she is capable of writing well.

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