Happiness TM by Will Ferguson
|Happiness TM by Will Ferguson|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Magda Healey|
|Summary: A clever post-modern satire on publishing industry and self-help, with a good anti-hero and an interesting premise. Borrow it if you are bothered enough about words, books, and publishing and/or self-help to find farce about them engaging and funny; and you might as well end up wanting to buy it too.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: June 2003|
|Publisher: Harper Perennial|
No one laughed. No one cried. It was, in the truest sense of the phrase, Heaven on Earth.
... or hell?
Will Ferguson's novel is a what-if exercise based on a question more fascinating than it might seem at the first sight: what would happen if self-help books really worked? It is a clever, funny and gleeful satire on the publishing world and the self-help industry. It also has a bit of a love story and a thriller to it, and on top of that it attacks - even if it wasn't the author's intention- not only the self-help industry as such but the underlying mindset, the concept of ideal person and perfect happiness (or bliss, as some would have it) as removal of all external and internal conflict and excess. And in doing so, Happiness TM also asks rather serious questions about who we are, and what makes us human. The answers provided are not exactly of great depth, but never mind that: after all it's a funny novel, not a philosophy treaty.
It is also well written, very post-modern, clever book chock-a-block with literary and cultural allusions - after all the three of the main characters are editors and the ultimate source of the events is a compulsive reader. These references are provided in a very self-conscious way, almost as if fulfilling Umberto Eco's prescriptions for a novel written in times when everything has been said before. But somehow it doesn't grate but works rather brilliantly.
Edwin de Valu, a cynical Gen-X-er works as an editor of help-help at Panderic, a B-rate American publishing house. He's married to an ex-prom queen turned financial analyst, a self-help junkie with a penchant for post-it notes and lusting not so secretly after his boss and only friend at Panderic, May Weatherhill. We also have Mr Mead, an aging baby-boomer and MD of Panderic and Dr Ethics, an ex-pillar of Panderic's self-help list, now in prison for homicide.
Edwin fishes out 'What I Learned on the Mountain' from Panderic's slush-pile in a desperate attempt to fulfil a task that Mr Mead had given him. What ensues is the beginning of the end. Of the world as we know it.
The characters are not particularly well developed, but good enough for a comedy of ideas and language that this book really is.
I liked Edwin the anti-hero, unlikely saviour of the world (as we know it) but to be honest apart from him and May there is hardly a character in Happiness TM that isn't a caricature.
The plot rushes on at a good speed and the what-if scenario develops before our eyes. Ferguson's description of the actual what-ifs wasn't particularly detailed, but in a way that was good because it left more room for the idea and less for picking holes of probability in the particulars. He provided an overview and a few examples, and these were farcical and scary enough.
Another thing he did well was a cynical brand of sentimentality, one I have not seen for a while in a book: sentimentality without happy endings and thus without mawkishness, something Kurt Vonnegut excelled in (and overdid). In fact, Ferguson's book reminded me of Vonnegut in some way though it was much more literary and self conscious. Another reference might be Douglas Coupland, though I liked Happines TM more than any Coupland book I have read.
I truly enjoyed Happiness TM: for its humour and satirical passion, for its scary what-if, for the bathetic love story. For being brave enough to have a balding and rather repulsive baby-boomer with a pony tail quote Dylan Thomas' most famous line and for being clever enough to be able to pull it off with just the right mixture of pathos and comedy. For clever one-liners and larger-than-life editors, of all professions. For the untranslatables and 'fact-checking for Tom Clancy'.
The denouement works in Happiness TM - just - though, as it's often the case, it is the novel's weakest point, and bit dragged out as well, but sufficiently to provide satisfying closure.
Happiness TM is not a deep book, and it doesn't stay with a reader for a long time after reading, but it provided me with few hours of unalloyed pleasure and one or two thoughts as well. I enjoyed the publishing world satire more than the self-help one (it could have, and should have been MUCH more vicious, and a glimpse of that was provided in the last part of the book) but they are both good.
Borrow Happines TM if you are bothered enough about words, books, and publishing and/or self-help to find farce about them engaging and funny; and you might as well end up wanting to buy it too. I think I will.
You can read more book reviews or buy Happiness TM by Will Ferguson at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Happiness TM by Will Ferguson at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.
You knew I would have to find a copy, didn't you?
Nice one! I wonder what gave you the idea to read this book? :-) Cheers, Malu.