Wednesday, December 16, 2015

book review: State of Happiness by Stella Duffy

The backstory: State of Happiness was longlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize.

The basics:  "Cindy Frier, author of a popular treatise on maps called Dis-location, meets Jack Stratton, a successful British news producer, at a party in New York City. Shortly after they become a couple, Jack receives a career-making promotion that takes him and Cindy to the beachy environs of Los Angeles."--publisher

My thoughts: This book captured my attention right away. The book opens at a dinner party, and the characters and setting felt so alive. Cindy and her friendship with Kelly are beautifully real. Their friendship was so interesting to me that I was initially sad when Jack became the primary focus of Cindy's attention. But this isn't a novel about female friendship. It isn't even really a novel about Jack and Cindy's relationship. For awhile, I thought it was a novel about the rich metaphors of mapping and cartographer. Cindy 's work fascinated me. It's no secret I'm drawn to stories, both fictional and not, that address how the places we live and spend time shape us, as well as how we shape them. Duffy inserts passages from Cindy's book, and I kept wishing this book actually existed.

When Jack gets the job offer of a lifetime in Los Angeles, I was appreciative that Cindy weighed the options in such a real way. She was torn between her life in New York, a city she loves, and with a job she loves, and life with the man she loves in a city she hates. This isn't a romance novel, but Jack and Cindy's relationship oozes with the realness of an actual romance. Cindy does go to California, and she struggles with adjustments in very real ways. Then: she gets diagnosed with cancer. As a reader, it felt jarring. "Wait!" I wanted to scream, this book can't suddenly be about cancer. I want more of Cindy and her friendship, relationships, and work. As Cindy's diagnosis takes over her life, it takes over this novel. It's not always easy to read, as Duffy clearly infused her own experience with cancer to give Cindy's experience the gritty realities. As I struggled with my unhappiness about where this story ended up, I realized that's exactly its point: cancer takes over this novel in a way I've never seen before, just as it can take over a life at an unexpected moment. Nothing is the same after cancer.

The verdict: State of Happiness is a deeply moving novel. It's incredibly difficult to read at times because it's filled with such rich, real emotion. Cindy is a dynamic character, and I loved the time I spent in her world, even the hard ones. If this novel is any indication of the rest of her work, which I'll be seeking out, Stella Duffy is a bold, fascinating writer willing to take readers to a place they didn't know they wanted to go.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: July 1, 2004
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy State of Happiness from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Stella Duffy's website and follow her on Twitter

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I was the American editor on this book and I'm so glad you liked it! It's been out for so long, I was pleasantly surprised to see your review. I don't work there any more but it's still reassuring to hear that I did the right thing acquiring this book so many years ago.

  2. You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. I'm a self-help blog author and reading blogs is my hobby and I randomly found your blog. I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging endeavors. Please keep in touch with me in Twitter, @selfhelpnemonik


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