Summary and book reviews of This Is Happiness by Niall Williams

This Is Happiness

by Niall Williams

This Is Happiness by Niall Williams X
This Is Happiness by Niall Williams
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2019, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2021, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

A profound and enchanting new novel from Booker Prize-longlisted author Niall Williams about the loves of our lives and the joys of reminiscing.

You don't see rain stop, but you sense it. You sense something has changed in the frequency you've been living and you hear the quietness you thought was silence get quieter still, and you raise your head so your eyes can make sense of what your ears have already told you, which at first is only: something has changed.

The rain is stopping. Nobody in the small, forgotten village of Faha remembers when it started; rain on the western seaboard was a condition of living. Now--just as Father Coffey proclaims the coming of electricity--it is stopping. Seventeen-year-old Noel Crowe is standing outside his grandparents' house shortly after the rain has stopped when he encounters Christy for the first time. Though he can't explain it, Noel knows right then: something has changed.

This is the story of all that was to follow: Christy's long-lost love and why he had come to Faha, Noel's own experiences falling in and out of love, and the endlessly postponed arrival of electricity--a development that, once complete, would leave behind a world that had not changed for centuries.

Niall Williams' latest novel is an intricately observed portrait of a community, its idiosyncrasies and its traditions, its paradoxes and its inanities, its failures and its triumphs. Luminous and otherworldly, and yet anchored with deep-running roots into the earthy and the everyday, This Is Happiness is about stories as the very stuff of life: the ways they make the texture and matter of our world, and the ways they write and rewrite us.

Excerpt
This is Happiness

It had stopped raining.

Nobody in Faha could remember when it started. Rain there on the western seaboard was a condition of living. It came straight-down and sideways, frontwards, backwards and any other wards God could think of. It came in sweeps, in waves, sometimes in veils. It came dressed as drizzle, as mizzle, as mist, as showers, frequent and widespread, as a wet fog, as a damp day, a drop, a dreeping, and an out-and-out downpour. It came the fine day, the bright day, and the day promised dry. It came at any time of the day and night, and in all seasons, regardless of calendar and forecast, until in Faha your clothes were rain and your skin was rain and your house was rain with a fireplace. It came off the grey vastness of an Atlantic that threw itself against the land like a lover once spurned and resolved not to be so again. It came accompanied by seagulls and smells of salt and seaweed. It came with cold air and curtained light. It came like a ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Particularly given this narrative structure—an old man recalling his youthful exploits—This Is Happiness could easily veer into the realms of sentimentality, but it never does. There's a type of nostalgia, to be sure, especially as Faha—like the rest of rural Ireland—sits on the brink of an entirely new way of life. But there's no wistful longing to bring back those days of yore—just an honest reckoning that, as fondly as those days and people and adventures may be remembered, they now exist only as memories, recalled with genuine appreciation of having not only witnessed but truly lived through such times...continued

Full Review (656 words).

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(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Where the book’s digressions sometimes bog down are in its more self-reflective moments: Noe the storyteller defending himself against charges (but whose?) of sentimentality and holding forth on the relationship between story and truth...'Oh, just shut up and take me back to Faha,' I wanted to interject at times. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t; he’s too sweet a fellow...Be kind, he admonishes the reader directly at one point, and it’s a testament to this bighearted novel that I felt duly chastened, almost like a member of the clan.

Washington Post
The sweetness of this novel would curdle if it weren’t preserved by a tincture of tragedy that runs through so many of these lives...This is a story about the beginnings of love and the persistence of affection, about the loss of faith and the recovering of belief. If you’re a reader of a certain frame of mind, craving a novel of delicate wit laced with rare insight, this, truly, is happiness.

BookPage (starred review)
The beauty and power of Irish author Niall Williams' writing lies in his ability to invest the quotidian with wonder. A truly peerless wordsmith, he even makes descriptions of gleaming white appliances and telephone wire sing…the book is hilarious among its many other virtues. Buy, rent, get your hands on this book somehow and savor every word of it. Its title says it all: Plunging into This is Happiness is happiness indeed.

The Observer (UK)
Admirers of Niall Williams' Booker longlisted History of the Rain will not be disappointed to learn that his latest novel is possibly even better.

The Guardian (UK)
A kind of tectonic movement from spring into summer, marked by the rhythms of village life...[Williams] has a humorist's eye, and his own fond amusement at the people he writes about shines out through the writing.

Publishers Weekly
In glorious and lyrical prose, Williams spins the tale of one 1958 season in the village of Faha, County Kerry. Noe's reminiscences of that period are full of beauty and hard-won wisdom. This novel is a delight.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Warm and whimsical, sometimes sorrowful, but always expressed in curlicues of Irish lyricism, this charming book makes varied use of its electrical metaphor, not least to express the flickering pulse of humanity. A story both little and large and one that pulls out all the Irish stops.

Booklist (starred review)
With a beckoning gentleness that belies the deeper philosophies at play, superb Irish author Williams offers a lilting, magical homage to time and redemption, and a stirring, sentimental journey into the mysteries of love and the possibilities of friendship.

Reader Reviews

JD

This is Happiness
This is the most beautifully written book! This is happiness just reading this book. Makes you realize how happy the simple life is and it is filled with lovable characters. It is brim full of kindness and a reminder of what we should be doing now...   Read More
Margot P

Just misses the mark
Don’t know why I can’t give a beautifully written, heartfelt, VERY IRISH, novel more than three stars. The story has so many profound moments and great characters, but in between those moments and people, there are so many words and descriptions that...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Electrification of Rural Ireland

Materials Being Unloaded for Shannon Hydroelectric Scheme in 1925 The personal events of Niall Williams's This Is Happiness are sparked by the impending arrival of electricity to Faha, a tiny hamlet in rural Ireland. The gradual electrification of this largely rural country was a decades-long process that extended over much of the middle part of the 20th century and that has been called the Quiet Revolution because of the extent to which it transformed the lives of ordinary Irish people.

Electricity—largely fueled by local and privately held companies—had existed in Dublin since the late 19th century. But beginning in the 1920s, two developments began to pave the way for broader electrical reach. First, the Irish government approved an initiative to install a hydroelectric plant tied to ...

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