Hector and the Search for Happiness by François Lelord [Review]

Hector, is a young man (although his age is never revealed)  who likes to help people, that of course is one of the reasons why he works as a psychiatrist.

During his work, he realises that a lot of his patients, aren’t really ill, just dissatisfied and unhappy with their lives. Yet he still wants to find some way to help them.

His difficulty in finding an answer, begins to wear him down, so when one of his patients tells him he looks like he needs a good holiday. Hector decides to do just that. But as his fiancée has to stay home and work, this trip is going to be sort-of a  busmans-holiday. You see while Hector is travelling, he is going to search for what makes people happy and whether there is some secret in obtaining it.

What follows is a gently told travelogue where Hector, meets old friends and makes new ones, gets into trouble and out of it, and discovers at least some of what makes people truly happy.

A lot of the secrets of happiness that Hector discovers, could be described as simple and obvious. Doesn’t of course make them any less pertinent though!

The narrative style reminded me of the Lemony Snickett books, with asides and explanations about why Hector is doing something or an event is skipped, being directed to the reader. On occasion, this slips from quirky narrative, to mildly condescending.  Thankfully it’s fairly rare when this happens.

Whilst the writing style may seem simplistic, it is actually more complex than a first glance would suggest. During his travels, Hector gets up to all sorts of antics; he falls in love (sort-of) with a prostitute – although perhaps ‘connects’ is a better word, as it’s not really ‘love’. There’s a deeply sad moment for both, during the split second the following morning, when Hector realises the truth of their liaison. Hector also finds the time to discuss life and happiness with an elderly monk, consort with a drug-lord and at one point even  be kidnapped!  These events and Hector’s accompanying naïvety are there though, to reflect on the simple human truths revealed elsewhere.

A book of this nature is always going to walk the knife-edge between some ‘life-coach’ obviousness on one side and worthiness on the other, and for the most past it evades both of these pit-falls, only really slipping into worthiness with a slightly contrived ending.

Not that an unhappy ending would have worked either however. It’s just an otherwise likeable Hector, does cheat on his fiancée at least twice on his trip, and yet pretty much gets off scott-free when he returns to the relationship. It would have been nice to explore at least a bit, happiness and relationships and how they entwine and effect each other. There perhaps wasn’t room as that could be a book on its own! But lack of consequences here, even though it does allow Hector so see he has ‘already’ found love,  it just took the shine off what is an otherwise very enjoyable book, which I’d still happily 😉 recommend to others.

My copy of Hector and the Search for Happiness was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

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