Book Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness
This is one of those self-help books that masquerade as narrative. Reading back the sentence above, it sounds a little dismissive and it shouldn’t. Most people need help at differing points in their lives – fulfilling potential is rarely something that the average human achieves alone. Self-help books meet a real need and I’m in favour of people reading them, and taking what works from them. Flavouring self-help with the condiments of narrative is fine by me.
When it works.
Hmm. So to Hector. Actually, not to Hector. Let me tell you a story about Heloise.
Heloise is a psychiatrist. She’s good at her job, with a healthy practice and has a lover who’s a high-flyer in (oooh, let’s say finance) but Heloise realises most of her patients aren’t happy and sets out to discover why not. She visits a friend on another continent who turns out to be a Head Honchette in (oooh, let’s say advertising) and who’s rich and powerful but perhaps not very happy either. During this trip Heloise meets a man in a night-club and despite having a lover at home, spends a steamy night with him, only to discover the next day that Head Honchette hired this gigolo to show Heloise a good time. She’s a bit crushed by this, but can’t get Mr Gigolo out of her head because … well, he’s good at sex.
Heloise moves on, visiting another friend in another ountry where she finds herself in a top class hotel. In the bar she gets talking to a Big Bitch who is involved in some shady business (possibly drugs) and who reveals that Mr Big Bitch is suffering mental illness. Heloise – being in the mental illness business – checks out what Mr Big Bitch is being prescribed and realises it’s not doing the job for him, so gives Big Bitch advice on how to get the right drugs for the man at home.
At this point Heloise goes through a whole bunch of weird experiences, including being kidnapped, and ends up at the house of her friend again, where she very nearly falls into bed with another hot guy, related to her friend, but after a smooch session manages to restrain herself. After all, she’s got a man at home and a crush on Mr Gigolo, tongue-tangling with Hot Guy 3 seems to her to be as far as she should go. One of the things that gets her out of her kidnap situation is being able to throw Big Bitch’s name into the conversation, which gives her kidnappers the fear that BB will come and make their lives hell if anything happens to Heloise.
Skip on, skip on … Heloise learns all kinds of lessons about happiness and goes home, still half in love with Mr Gigolo. She doesn’t tell her lover about Mr G, nor about the tongue-tangling Hot Guy 3. She does use Head Honchette to get Mr Gigolo a real job where he doesn’t have to sell his bits for money. She settles down with her lover and starts a family.
So … this psychiatrist sleeps around and doesn’t tell her partner (Safe sex? Honesty? The right to information before making a lifetime’s commitment?), she messes with somebody else’s patient at third hand by reviewing the man’s prescription WITH HIS WIFE and then suggesting WITHOUT MEETING HIM that he should be taking some other drugs (Right to self-determination? Privacy? Professional ethics? Professional courtesy? Fact-checking [maybe Big Bitch wants to kill off her man and is using Heloise as a patsy to get drugs that will do the job and make it look like suicide or overdose]?) and she hoiks a guy out of his lifestyle because she thinks it’s wrong for him, using the old girl network to turn his life into something that makes her feel happier about his situation – do I need to do the brackets here or can you work it out for yourself? Of course you can.
So … I couldn’t work out what made me uncomfortable about this book until I recast Hector as Heloise and his male friends as her female ones and then it became clear to me that what I was responding to was a high level of implicit sexism that allows Hector to mess in the lives of others: call girls, the wives of criminals he meets in bars; and to lie to others: his girlfriend back at home, with impunity. And when you swap the genders of all the characters in this little narrative it becomes clear (to me, maybe not to you, your mileage may vary) that this book is about patriarchy disguised as psychiatry – trust a man, he can put you right, even if he has to ignore your rights and abrogate his responsibilities to do it.
It’s engagingly written and simple and easy to enjoy. But I’m not recommending this one. I liked the cover though.
Anonymous19th March 2010
Great review! I’ve just discovered a new (American) author – Leslie Esdaile. Been reading ‘Better Than’ – as a primer for a certain Roantic Novel opener competition. Wow! (Well, I liked it) Wonder what you’d make of her. It’s woken me up to what ‘Romance’ can be like – and not just in fiction! Oh, for a few Jasons!
Anonymous1st April 2010
There’s a review of this in the recent ‘New Books’ magazine (Debut authors’issue.)
The book sounds very condescending, patronising (in all senses)and if you study the author’s knowing smirk, you can see why. (££££££££££££££££££££)