Monday, April 25, 2016

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee

Title:  Happy People Read and Drink Coffee
Author:  Agnes Martin-Lugand
Publication Information:  Weinstein Books. 2016. 256 pages.
ISBN:  1602862842 / 978-1602862845

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Mom, please?"

Favorite Quote:  "The only thing I hold against you is that you left me all alone. I'm lost."

Happy people. Books and reading. Coffee. Doesn't that seem like a perfect combination for a book? Add to that a lovely, vibrant cover. That puts forth an image of warmth and joy, a lovely premise for a cozy read.

Unfortunately, this book has none of those elements. No happy people. No coffee. No reading. The title comes from the tagline from a literary cafe that the main character owns, but it does not really feature in the book. This book does have a lot of unhappy people, a lot of drunkenness (and I don't mean on coffee), many many cigarettes, and definitely no reading.

The book description warns that the book begins in a place of sadness - an event too terrible to even contemplate. A woman loses her beloved husband and child in a car accident. She is left with pain, sorrow, and what ifs. She is lost. The description suggest an emotional journey and hints at hope emerging from an unimaginable tragedy, all of which can be a strong premise for a moving story.

An accident takes away what Diane holds most dear. A year passes by, but Diane's life stops at the moment of the accident. How can she go on? Family and friends try to help and then back away, all except for Diane's best friend and business partner Felix. The opening chapters of the book tell the story of Diane's grief and are the most compelling of the book.  However, even in this section, Diane's strained relationship with her parents is depicted but never explained, leaving a hole in the narrative.

Then, a chance memory leads Diane to move from her Paris home to a remote village in Ireland. She runs from her loss, and runs to fulfill a dream her husband had. All of a sudden, I have visions of the book and movie P.S. I Love You. The loss of a beloved husband. A trip to Ireland. The parallels are there. The premise for a strong emotional story still exists or at least for a sweet, perhaps overly sentimental story perfect for a beach read.

Unfortunately, the book does not take that route either. Yes, as in P.S. I Love You, another man enters the picture. However, the story does not remain sweet. It is tinged with characters that seem like caricatures. A brooding, cranky hero with a heart of gold whose back story is never developed enough to be believable. A catty, competitive, and manipulative woman whose presence in the book moves it in a direction completely different than a story about grief and loss.

My favorite character of the book is Diane's friend Felix. He stands by her through her entire journey, rearranging his life to be there for his friend, caring for her even when she doesn't, and telling her what she needs to hear. That is the kind of friend you want in your corner. Unfortunately, the remainder of his life comes across as an exaggerated stereotype, almost cartoonish and completely unnecessary to Diane's story. The ending does manage to salvage Diane's journey of loss, but unfortunately, it is not enough.

This book is translated from the original French. I don't know if it loses something in the translation. Unfortunately, the cliche, don't judge a book by its cover, applies to this book but not in the way it is usually intended. The lovely cover, the title, and the book description conjure a picture that the book does not deliver on.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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