Elsa, Marie, Fanny and Lenica are four young French friends who get together each summer at some unspecified place on the Atlantic coast. Paris is mentioned in passing as are Luxembourg and Dublin, but apart from those, the story could be set anywhere. One summer, Lenica brings along a young Irishman named Sean. The action of the book is set that summer and another one many years later.
Our Happy Days is a translation from German and it is possible that the original contains sparkling prose, but if so, it has been lost in translation.
The first-person narrator throughout is Elsa. By that second, later summer she is a divorced mother of two adult children. Marie has a daughter who is about to get married, Fanny is unmarried and runs a bookshop, Lenica has died in a road accident.
Back in that first summer, Elsa and Sean fell in love, but he was also in love with Lenica; as a result the four fell out and did not have further contact with each other for many years. The reason for the breakup of the happy group is revealed towards the end, by which time the reader may have trouble summoning interest.
Most of the book involves the gatherings of the foursome and the effect that Sean has on them. There are lots of hugs and kisses, but not much sex. "Sex is dangerous. It wrecks everything," one of them says. Wine is drunk in large quantities, except when the action moves briefly to Ireland, where the chosen drink is Jameson and Guinness.
The most memorable item in the book is the speech given by Marie's husband at their daughter's wedding. "I know now what life is about. It's about waiting. About desire and escape, about coming close and losing touch. It's about fear and the temptation of failure. It's about regret."
By coincidence, he had described in those few words what the author has taken almost 300 dreary pages to say.
This reader was completely confused by the many switches between the two time periods covered in the story, the switch sometimes concealed in details about clothes or hair colour.
In the earlier chapters, there are hints of some deep mystery in annoying references occurring in the ending of a chapter. "I was asking myself something quite different," or "I realise there was a lot I didn't know."
Our Happy Days is a translation from German and it is possible that the original contains sparkling prose, but if so, it has been lost in translation. The action is carried mainly in dialogue, something which is notoriously difficult to translate. It would be easy to imagine that colloquialisms or cultural inuendoes would lose their significance when moved from one language to another. "We drank gallons of Guinness," we read at one point, a statement that is certainly inaccurate. Similarly, when a light-year is used as an indication of a long period of time, one imagines that German science would be offended.
The strongest reaction on finishing this book is relief.
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