Promise of Happiness Paperback – Sep 30 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Cartwright's hilarious, despairing, rapier-sharp third book (Leading the Cheers) delivers a great deal of the absent titular emotion. The five members of the Judd family, reeling from a series of personal and professional blows, have each retreated into a private world. But the impending release of eldest daughter Juliet, an art historian incarcerated in an upstate New York prison for helping to sell stolen Tiffany windows, sets the plot—and the family—in motion. As Juliet—once the apple of her parents' eye but now the family's black sheep—drives to the city with brother Charlie, her father mulls his own professional disgrace, her mother looks to home cooking as a salve, sister Sophie continues to wean herself off drugs (and a married man) and Charlie, the rock of the family, has doubts about his impending marriage to a South American socialite. Each sees their efforts as "the secretion of human folly," but the novel retains a measure of hope for the very thing it despairs of: family. Happiness may be too much to ask for, but its chase, Cartwright suggests, can be at the best of times a family pursuit. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Former golden girl Juliet Judd has just been released after serving two years in a New York prison for art fraud. Her homecoming offers her distraught family a chance to reunite and, at long last, to feel a sense of normalcy. Her 68-year-old father is failing, recently forced out of his job and into retirement in the Cornish village of Trebetherick. Her mother obsesses over cooking classes, as if it's her bad cooking that landed her daughter in jail. Meanwhile, Juliet's sister, Sophie, distracts herself with drugs and a married lover, while brother Charlie, soon to become a millionaire after founding a company that sells socks over the Internet, feels that his impending marriage to a glamorous Brazilian is something of a sham. Prizewinning British novelist Cartwright effortlessly shifts the setting from New York to London to the Cornish coast and ranges freely between the verve of youth and the regrets of late middle age; however, he reserves his thorniest writing for the complicated Juliet, who wrestles with guilt and yearns for closure. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Man Booker-shortlisted and Whitbread-winning author Justin Cartwright's latest offering is thankfully the latter of the three. A slow-to-unfold yet rightfully deliberate stroll through the contours of human suffering and a story that recognizes the importance of hope as an offset to seemingly irreversible tragedy, THE PROMISE OF HAPPINESS describes one family's pieced-together attempt at redemption following a far-reaching misfortune that threatens to break them apart permanently.
At 32, Juliet Judd is at the height of her life. She has a cheeky, hip gallery-owner boyfriend, a gorgeous Upper East Side apartment, an Oxford education and a prestigious job at the preeminent Christie's in New York. In the midst of it all, she is convicted of an alleged crime --- it is questionable whether she plays an active part in it or not --- and is sentenced to what turns out to be three years in prison. The fact that there were others responsible for stealing and reselling the Tiffany's glass window is beside the point, according to the court. She is the one who wrote the checks. She is the one with the prestigious reputation. She is the one who must take the fall.
In her absence, the Judd family silently unravels --- each in their own twisted struggle to reconcile the condemnation of their prodigal daughter/sister. Her father Charles loses his business as well as his grasp on reality, withering away into a frail shadow of his former self. Her mother Daphne realizes the depths of her unhappiness and tries to fill the seemingly endless empty hours with pointless cooking classes and gardening. Her sister Sophie drops out of school, starts doing drugs, and has an affair with her boss, twenty years her senior. Her brother Charlie, despite becoming successful in a burgeoning self-started Internet business, enters into a relationship with a gorgeous yet seemingly vacuous woman, Ana. Although Ana is pregnant and they have plans to marry, it is questionable as to whether or not Charlie actually loves her. Without Ju-Ju to hold the family together, the Judds flounder about, wounded and self-righteous in their efforts to block out what has befallen them.
Fast-forward three years and Juliet is being released from prison. In preparation for her return home, a number of intentional (and unintentional) transformations take place. Charlie plans to go ahead with the wedding and Daphne makes arrangements for an elaborate celebration --- bringing together her old family with the new, all in a blind hope to restore peace and humility to their shattered world. Sophie breaks up with her married boyfriend, takes out her nose ring (a small yet symbolic gesture) and plans to move home for the summer to get her life in gear. Even Charles, although he has the hardest time of it, takes pains to get past his depression enough to forgive his daughter (and himself) for all that has transpired in her absence.
What makes THE PROMISE OF HAPPINESS so touching and worthwhile is not so much the actual circumstances of Charlie's, Sophie's, Daphne's, Charles's or Juliet's lives, but how each one deals with the randomness of what happens to them in relation to how they define themselves as individuals and as part of a breathing, functioning family unit in the world. "And so this is life. It is arbitrary; its narrative is erratic. [They] have been given a harsh understanding of the human condition. [They] didn't ask for it, or seek it." But they must keep moving and growing together, nonetheless.
As Tolstoy once wrote as the opening first lines to ANNA KARENINA, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Justin Cartwright's eighth novel is a true testament to the disparaging trials any family might encounter and to what ends they might have to travel to make it through to the other side.
--- Reviewed by Alexis Burling
Her father is ashamed by the desecration almost as much as the conviction; he also struggles with having lost his position several years ago. Her brother Charlie, a successful business man, picks his sister up at the airport, but remains distant from her as she let him down with the theft; he also contemplates whether he really wants to marry though he is engaged to do so shortly. Her other sibling Sophie the TV producer blames her shortcomings on Juliet's disgrace though the drugs and the married man is all her own doing. Meanwhile mom avoids everyone's issues as she hides behind cooking. The five Judds are back in Cornwell for the first time in years and will either kill each other or turn to each other for comfort.
Readers will run the gamut of emotions as they will see their own family in the distraught Judd brood. The tale is obviously character driven as the quintet elicits laughter and tears for an enthralled audience who will wonder if Justin Cartwright is writing about their family. Fans will appreciate this powerful look at family foolishness that makes the Judds us and us the Judds.
We first meet Juliet just as she's being released from prison and her dependable brother Charlie has arrived in the States to take her home to England. It has been two years of hell for this intelligent and quietly enigmatic girl, and her sudden incarceration has splintered and fractured her family.
Mired in humiliation, Ju-Ju's parents, Daphne and Charles retire to a ramshackle cottage on the windswept coast of Cornwall, devastated at their daughter's plight. Always the apple of his eye, Charles can't bear the thought that everyone knows his precious daughter is in gaol. Ju-Ju's younger sister Sophie, battles drug addiction, whilst working as a film advertiser in London. And Charlie, the family success story, is making his fortune selling socks over the Internet.
For two years, the Judd family has stumbled into darkness; Daphne - never actually believing that Ju-Ju was guilty - finds solace in prayer, cooking classes and flower arranging. She hopes for a resolution, a manifestation of family, where one day they can all get together in Cornwall. Charles, bitter at being forcibly retrenched from a prestigious law firm in London, endlessly studies the cliffs and ekes out his days on the local golf course.
Obviously they've coped badly, even the dog-committed suicide, and then there where Daphne's ghastly and tense visits to the prison to see Ju-Ju in America. Author Justin Cartwright steadily unveils the family dynamics, with Ju-Ju's imprisonment affecting each of them in vastly different ways. Caught in an ethical dilemma, Charles refuses to go to America to see his daughter because he just couldn't bare to see Ju-Ju suffer; he feared the sight of her in a prison uniform would demolish the unsteady edifice that his life has become, he even admits, "I am being punished for my cowardice."
Charles is the moral center of this novel, yet he is the one who loses his bearings and the one most affected by Ju-Ju's incarceration. Wracked with disenchantment and deeply cynical, he tries desperately to blame 9/11: "all the foreigners were suspect; the dragnet caught my Ju-Ju." And he's angry that his life hadn't turned out the way it should have and that all the hope he had invested in his daughter has come to nothing. He'd always imagined that he could shield their children from all that is harsh and lonely in the world.
The Promise of Happiness is all about the search to regain contentment in a world that has become far from bucolic. England is transforming and within this change, the Judd family finds it difficult to reconnect - intimacy does not come easy for them. They're also a family who are somewhat clannish and critical, even Daphne believes they are "from some natural aristocracy, "whilst Charles just wants to "pull up the drawbridge against the barbarians."
Ju-Ju's experience has caused them to go through a forced and very necessary cycle of change. Her release from prison brings a new awareness, challenging their guilt and their willingness to encapsulate a grief that has so dominated their lives. Cartwright has written a complex and multifaceted story that explores the terrible costs of avoiding happiness. His themes are profound - the importance of beauty, class, and family and the idea that art is different from the rest of life, something pure and more authentic.
Throughout the novel, the Judd family is faced with some critical choices - especially Charles, as he's the type of old-style reserved Englishman who knows he's out of touch with the modern world and holds a lot back. It is only through Ju-Ju's eventual arrival back in London that this family can be reunited and begin to move on, and perhaps start to heal from this terrible tragedy that has so dominated their lives. Mike Leonard May 06.