Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Happy are the Happy," by Yasmina Reza

Yasmina Reza, best known as an award-winning playwright, has written a jumpy, nervous, fascinating “novel,” “Happy are the Happy” (Other Press, 2013, translated from the French by John Cullen.) I put the word “novel” in quotation marks, because although it is labeled as such, this book contains twenty short chapters with shared characters, forming something between a short story collection and a novel. The title comes from Borges’ poem about love (“Happy are those/who are beloved/and those who love/and those who can/do without love./Happy are the happy.”). Certain things about the structure of the book feel just slightly gimmicky, such as the fact that each chapter is one unbroken piece of prose, with no separate paragraphs. But the reader’s experience of diving right into the consciousness of each character, and seeing the same events and experiences from the characters’ various perspectives, provide a kind of delicious (although sometimes painful) immersion in the lives of these prosperous Parisians of the intellectual class. The characters do not always behave well, but on the whole are good people, trying to find their way in life. All the classic subjects (and, as regular readers of this blog know, the topics I love so well) are present: love, sex, families, work, illness, despair, redemption, death, and more. Yet in a way these chapters, this book, are not “about” experiences as much as about painting pictures of lives in exquisite detail. The writing is gorgeous. The translator as well as the author deserve credit for that beauty.

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