The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall

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The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Alex Merrick
Reviewed by Alex Merrick
Summary: The Industry of Human Happiness is a thrilling novel about the beginning of the music industry. It takes place in the darkest depths of Victorian London where the story's characters plunge themselves due to their ambition and passion for music.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 282 Date: May 2018
Publisher: Lightning Books
ISBN: 978-1785630804

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The Industry of Human Happiness first and foremost is a novel about music. It is about human beings being able to find music and magic in the simplest of places. Max and his younger cousin have realised their dream of opening a gramophone company. However, their ambition and hubris soon puts them on a course towards London's underworld. They will ascend broken and their lives changed forever.

James Hall is a music journalist and this is his debut novel. The Industry of Human Happiness allows his journalistic background to shine through. He has spent vast amounts of time researching the Victorian era and the production of phono – and gramophones. His acknowledgements illustrate this, as he writes he read dozens of books, websites, and historical and academic papers. He also thanks EMI Archive for allowing him time to closely to look up at old gramophones. His journalistic responsibility to the truth means the world he creates becomes more vivid and keeps the reader engaged with the narrative.

Hall definitely has an ear for music, as this tale unfolds with great rhythm. At times his pace and structure illustrate his passion for music and also his command over the English language. He writes, The song sounded like celestial thunder. The closest thing Max had heard to it was in the Welsh valleys, but its harmonies were wilder, its melodies rougher. The short breaks towards the end of the sentence, accentuate the rough and wildness of the song. He uses patterns and tricks like this, often throughout the narrative. This has its weaknesses though. Some of his sentences are too staccato. The flow of the action stumbles and makes glaringly obvious his adolescence to the craft.

Hall's sometime amateur sentence structure is forgivable, as it is his passion for music that lights the pages of his novel. Love's like sound Delilah. It sustains and reverberates. Hall compares love to sound to illustrate Max's passion and to an extent his own passion for music. It is this passion that draws the reader into his story. Max has twelve jewels that he wants to capture onto his gramophone. These range from Harlem ragtime to Cornish crowdy – crawn. You become so invested in these characters that you want to discover these pieces of music for yourself. You become attached to the idea of these jewels because of Hall's passion and love for his main character.

He captures a wonderful feeling of time, emphasising the era as a time of great progress and expansion. The world was changing rapidly. Max's Mama writes that we are drowning in useless progress, to illustrate its relentless march. Hall shows that progress is an uncaring juggernaut that sweeps all those left behind out the way. He writes with a real passion for the subject and can be forgiven for the occasional lapse in sentence structure or rhythm. His novel emphasises the importance of music and also the musicality of the world, it contain[s] a soft rhythm all of its own.

If you enjoyed The Industry of Human Happiness and want to read more about Victorian society and its underworld, you might enjoy The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd.

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Buy The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall at


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