Happy are the Happy by Yasmina Reza

Happy are the Happy examines the lives of 18 Parisians as they struggle to cope with coupledom and marriage generally. And happy, it ain’t. There are 21 short stories in all, with characters who have a variety of links (some tenuous, some very close) to the couple we meet in the first story – Robert and Odile Toscano. Robert and Odile’s story gives you a good feel for the writing and tone you’ll find throughout these pages – sarcasm, aggression and a lack of connectedness, balanced with laughter and sexiness.

Each of the stories functions in its own right as a portrait of the unhappiness of married life: the unknowable nature of another person; the solitariness of being a human being. There are games and secrets and passive-aggressive digs, sometimes just plain old aggressive digs, without the passiveness. Even the ‘happily-married’ couple in the book turns out to be tormented by their son’s mental health (he thinks he is Céline Dion).

The title is taken from a quote by Jorge Luis Borges: ‘Happy are the loved and the lovers and those who can do without love. Happy are the happy.’ That pretty much covers everyone except the heartbroken. And considering that everyone in this book seems to have a touch of the heartbroken about them, maybe the title – which appears, at first glance, to be ironic – was actually chosen because of its pinpoint accuracy.

There’s a touch of the Raymond Carver about this book – a glamorous, European version. The interweaving of lives, the intersecting of moments, and the unknowable nature of the people we spend our time with. This one’s a quick and easy read, recommended for people who like their escapism sharp and snappy.

Gabrielle Williams is a bookseller at Readings Malvern.