Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn

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Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Katie Pullen
Reviewed by Katie Pullen
Summary: Holly Frick is still in love with her ex husband, her writing career is on the slide, and she's keen to interfere in the lives of her best friends rather than sort out her mess of a life. Unfortunately, Holly and her friends are pretty unconvincing characters and the book just doesn't seem to get going until it's all but over
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: November 2010
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751538304

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Holly Frick is 35, single and living in New York City. She still thinks she's in love with her ex husband, her career as a TV writer is on a steady downward spiral and she's had limited success as a novelist. She may be having amazing no strings sex with toy boy Lucas, but Holly is unfulfilled and unhappy. Plus, she's surrounded by equally dysfunctional friends, including best friend Amanda, who has no qualms embarking on an extramarital affair, and writing partner Leonard, who is more than happy to self-medicate and find his thrills through the Internet. Plus Spence, the ex before the ex husband has resurfaced in Holly's life and thanks to his new girlfriend Cathleen, Holly finds herself reliving their relationship as Cathleen interrogates her on Spence's past.

Holly finds distraction from her messy life by interfering in the complicated lives of her friends, and soon finds the ultimate distraction in the shape of a rescue dog that needs a lot of attention. Will Holly, or indeed her friends, ever find what they need to achieve happiness?

I was expecting something smart, funny and instantly engaging when I picked this book off The Bookbag shelf, thinking it would all be a bit Sex and the City, with plenty of sex, wit and hilarious encounters. Although both readable and contemporary, Secrets to Happiness just doesn't go really anywhere and instead of bubbling away nicely barely reaches a simmer throughout.

I just didn't warm to the main character of Holly. Although similar in age to her, I found her quite immature and annoying at times. She has no apparent focus on her career, which surprised me for a New Yorker, preferring to look back on her life and its disappointments rather than pull herself together and get on with improving it. The blurb on the back of the novel compares her to Jane Austen's Emma, which drew me in to start with, and yes Holly is pretty good at interfering in her friends' lives from time to time throughout the novel, but that's about as far as it goes. She does not have even half of Emma's personality and unlike Emma she never really moves forward.

I really struggled to get to grips with the plot in this novel and decided about halfway through to just accept there isn't one apart from the integral idea that everyone is trying to find the secret to happiness albeit in some odd ways. It reads better as a series of scenes involving a cast of characters who are all fundamentally linked to Holly, of whom some barely come into contact with her. Certainly a bit different from the fiction I am used to. Maybe readers across the pond prefer contemporary fiction of this nature, but I generally need to know that my time and effort spent reading is going to be rewarded, rather than ending up with a novel that all but peters out, almost as if Sarah Dunn herself ran out of interest in her own characters.

Although this book made me quite frustrated in terms of its characters and plot, I did laugh a couple of times at Dunn's humour, surprisingly felt sorry for a couple of the other characters, and was relieved by the frantic bit of rounding up come the end, hence my perhaps generous three stars. But overall, if you want to read about a character like Jane Austen's Emma then it's probably best all round to just read that book instead.

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further Reading Suggestion: If you like the sound of this book, you may also enjoy I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk and for another book name checking Jane Austen try Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo.

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