Happiness by Denis Robert

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Happiness by Denis Robert
Buy Happiness from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Happiness from Amazon.com

Genre: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A cycle of man and woman and the sex they have, that is formatted different to most other books of this kind but offers nothing much new.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1852429591

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Every so often a book comes along claiming to be the next big erotic masterpiece. The Story of O, or whatever the book for each generation - and every generation seems to get one - always involves a man and a woman, the sex between them, and the unrealistic escalation of same, before it all goes downhill. If you've read one of these before you know the plot, and I suspect, like me, you may be wondering why people bother writing such books any more.

Well, Denis Robert, apparently a highly regarded French man of letters, has indeed bothered. His male narrator is an author as well, married with children, and with a lot of freedom to see a lot of the woman involved. She is a decade younger, with a sureness about her character that is contrasted with the progression of the story here, as their sex gets more publically daring, encompasses swinging clubs and more, before one of the few natural endings allowed them.

Any freshness to be had here is in the telling, where the right hand page is his words, the left hand page hers. Sometimes the chapters offered in such a fashion are only a sentence long, sometimes spread to a second page. Sometimes the second person doesn't have anything to say at a certain point, so the first person has two turns.

The fact that these narrators are talking about each other, and often writing to the other as 'you' highlights the relationship here. There is a lot of sex in it, and addiction, and earthy psychological reasoning, but they don't physically communicate - only once did I notice one being a direct response to what the other had just said/written.

The book if anything is about balance - between the male and the woman here, between their sub/dom feelings, between love and sex, between the Happiness and lack thereof throughout. Just as is so regular with a lot of these books, there is often given a feeling of dissatisfaction, however rampantly interesting the carnality is for them - and, presumably, for us. I do not know where I am going with her is a case in point, from his point of view - evidently we can read that chapter (in isolation) in one of many ways.

The balance between the book and its author and us is of perhaps more interest. Is Robert suggesting some link between himself and his character, between his experiences (he is French, after all) and the sex clubs and sharing going on in these pages? Are the words he puts into her phrases - a very well-defined female character, for this genre - suggestive of a shared morality with himself?

But there always comes a point in these books where the sexual activity takes us beyond our common ground as a reader (perhaps this is just me, however - perhaps I haven't lived). This always strikes me as a galling lack of realism, and lack of respect to all the countless love stories that there are. I'm not expecting every story about sex to peak at the beginning, a la Mills and Boon, I'm not suggesting rampant bonking is not commendable from the right author, I'm just saying I find this kind of book where people feel the need to hit an extremity, then see that it wasn't worth the effort, is getting a bit tired.

I don't want to pour too much cold water on this book, however - I did like the style, the structure and the dense characterisation. There is literate interest in the phrasing as it veers between the first, second and third person. (As regards a book with so much sexual content there is one response I had - or not - I refuse to divulge in public.) It's certainly a lot better than Melissa P's pair. It's just that I don't see the need for more of the same, and for all the qualities, I didn't manage to enthuse and decide to give any climactic shouts from the rooftop that this is a must-read.

I must thank Serpent's Tail's kind people for my review copy.

The Isle of Dogs by Daniel Davies is a similarly fruity novel, that has a different dressing to the norm. We found the language in it too evident to keep it from our review. To go back to Happiness, it wears its similar heart on its sleeve - the back cover has language to make Bill Grundy turn in his grave. There are similar themes in Starfishing by Nicola Monaghan.

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