By Lydia Millet
Soft Skull Press
Reviewed by Heather T.
Before reading My Happy Life, I examined what Estella’s July, "young at heart"theme meant to me. "Young at heart" strikes me as a happy theme; one in which you can be confident that only good things will happen…after all, isn’t youth supposed to be full of innocence? July was always a time of lazy days filled with activities such as running through the sprinkler, gorging myself on ice cream and reading all the books I could get my hands on.
I began the book and read this:
“The door is locked from the outside; they went away and forgot me" (1).
Nice! Perhaps this isn’t going to be a happy sort of book after all (at this point I hadn’t read any of the accompanying review material) This book was kindly sent to me by the lovely ladies of Estella’s Revenge and I was really looking forward to it. From the title alone I had made up some notion in my head that it was a happy-go-lucky coming of age story. It’s a coming of age story alright but it is a distressingly tragic one.
This first line, I discover, is stated at a later stage of life and sets the reader up for a comment made later in the novel in which the narrator is told she is an extra; she is told this when she is child. How awful! To be told you are an extra!! Many times people don’t want the extra, it is usually destined for the refuse pile and her life, filled with horrendous abuses, illustrates just that. I felt sad the entire time I was reading this book.
The positive things I’d like to say about this book are that the writing is wonderful. This counts for major points in my personal tally book. The narrator has some very awful things happen to her but the author doesn’t get graphic. She uses a certain amount of grace to tell the reader what is happening but frankly if the reader isn’t paying attention then they’ll have missed everything – this adds something special to the story and I think it takes a talent not too many writers have.
Have you ever read a book that you found you detested while at the same time you are filled with admiration for the talent of the writer? This happened to me with this book. I was in the mood for a happy read so I couldn’t find the positive in the story. The narrator finds positive in everything around her but unfortunately I knew what was really happening to her and felt too much sadness – I suppose not understanding the world around you would lead to a happy life.
Being young at heart does not mean that you are completely naïve as the narrator is. It does not mean that you shake your head and say "excuse me" as someone hurts you, like the narrator does. Being young at heart means you view life with a lighter touch…with a small smile.
I wanted to write a much more positive review but I think the author will understand when I say that this book’s topic was too much for me. Her talent as a writer I could never dispute and in fact I would urge you to read this book. Perhaps you can find the happy and the small smile.