I don’t know about you but when you find an author that you love there is that mingled desire to read everything that they have ever written before you discovered them as quickly as possible. There is also the desire to savour these books and not have finished all of someone’s books before the next one is out. There can also be the niggling worry that you might not like it either at all or just not as much as the others. Which authors is it for you? For me there are a few authors that I have these thoughts with, I bet you could guess them, and those are Ian McEwan, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson, Anne Tyler, Daphne Du Maurier, Tess Gerritsen and last but not least Stella Duffy. So I opened the first page of State Of Happiness with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
This book is amazing, simply stunning. I don’t know where to start a review exactly because I don’t want to give anything away so I will try and stick to the blurb with my additional babbling along the way. Jack (a Mancunian living in New York trying to make it in TV and the news) and Cindy (a mapmaker and published writer) meet at a mutual friend’s party and by the end of the evening know that they have both met someone special. What follows is the story of their relationship over the first five years moving from New York to LA and then dealing with the shocking blow when Cindy becomes incredibly ill.
The first half of the novel tells of the way relationships start and flow as they become more and more serious. The hesitations and customisations people have and make as they go through the new emotions and make room in their life for someone new, someone to become the other part of their life. I don’t know how she does it but Stella Duffy writes in a way that we see all these things in ourselves and smile at them. I kept thinking as I read on ‘oh yes, I have felt like that’ when she describes making space in your life for someone else and their habits. It’s written with a delightful realism that made me empathise with the characters which only made things harder in the second half of the novel.
Oddly when Cindy moves to be with Jack from the busy city and lights of New York to the sunny skies of LA the book becomes much darker. When Cindy falls sick (and I am not going to tell you what happens) you live the moments with her. I think my journey with her was so much harder because I liked her so much (I know books aren’t about characters we like but like her I did) and because someone close to me became very ill and it brought it back. I don’t think I have read such a spot on description of all the emotions you go through, the questions, the anger, the sadness and the laughter apart from in Helen Garner’s The Spare Room. ‘State of Happiness’ has it all encapsulated in less than two hundred and fifty pages.
The other thing that Duffy does that I thought was wonderful is relate all of these factors with mapping. Cindy herself is a cartographer as I mentioned, we read some of the excerpts of her book and possible future novel throughout the book, and how our lives are mapped and how the routes change as we go along is a big subject of the book. It’s the prose that gets me though frank yet poetic and subtle yet poignant. A friend of mine read the book just before me (and gave away the ending – tut) and summed it up in a sentence ‘a wonderful book, I have never read anything like it’ and she was spot on. This is a must read… must read.