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- Awards & Prizes: Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award Shortlist 2005
Sad Truth About Happiness Paperback – Apr 3 2006
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Set in Vancouver, Anne Giardini's debut novel, The Sad Truth About Happiness, follows the life of Maggie, 32, a well-adjusted radiation technologist, as she tries to discover the true nature of happiness. She knows she cannot look to her two sisters as examples: her older sister, Janet, burdened with three kids, is on tranquilizers, while Lucy, the younger, has always been difficult and discontented. Maggie's love life, however, is blossoming, with three new boyfriends (including a doctor and a lawyer). Meanwhile, Maggie's friend, Rebecca, who designs quizzes for women's magazines, tests Maggie with a quiz that purports to measure expected life span. When they learn, according to the quiz, that Maggie might die in three months unless she discovers true happiness, Maggie takes the light-hearted results seriously and sets off on her quest.
Around the same time, Lucy, who has moved to Italy, becomes pregnant by an older Italian man. She flees back to Canada, to the arms of good-hearted, innocent Ryan, who has offered to marry her. When her baby arrives, so does the Italian father, to take his son home to Italy. This is when the novel develops some far-fetched plot twists, as Maggie (who suddenly acts completely out of character) kidnaps the infant and takes off for Quebec with Rebecca, hiding in a small town apparently peopled only by good-hearted Quebecois women. While the author shows a literary flair, particularly in her descriptions of the sky and weather ("the dove- and pearl- and abalone-coloured clouds," "hail the size of infants' teeth"), and draws characters that are, for the most part, believable, the book (like Maggie's evasive happiness) is marred by series of unlikely events and coincidences. --Mark Frutkin
The Sad Truth About Happiness by Anne Giardini, the daughter of CanLit icon Carol Shields, is a truly delightful novel about the endless lifetime entanglements of family loyalty and love. Featuring probably the best cover of the year, a jacket designed by Carl Carson, with the illustration, Betty (1988, oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter). Maggie, a thirtyish radiation technologist in Toronto, is independent, between relationships, and has an inquisitive mind. Her roommate, Rebecca, devises quizzes for magazines. She comes up with one she is sure can predict the date a person's death, if they answer honestly. Maggie takes the quiz several times, and each result predicts her death before her next birthday. It seems that Maggie must become much happier in her remaining months or the prediction will come true. The writing is elegant: " . . . badly aging stuccoed low-rises . . . painted Florida colors that faded and streaked in the city's frequent rains, looking like they were slowly melting away, like gigantic slabs of Neapolitan ice cream left sitting outside on a warm day." Complications arise when Maggie's younger sister, Lucy, returns from a job in Italy, pregnant and distraught that her married Italian lover has abandoned her. She finds a Canadian boy willing to marry her as is, but her wealthy Italian lover and his wife appear soon after she gives birth, seeking custody, since they are childless. Maggie snatches the baby away from them and goes on the lam with the newborn. Describing Rebecca's boyfriend, Giardini writes, "He reminded me of a medium-sized golden-furred mammal, a marmot perhaps, with a round body, a rudimentary neck, and an absurd but likeable face. I didn't like to think about what he might look like without his rumpled clothes on, although it was impossible to keep from contemplating that he might be round and golden and furry all over." How all the problems are worked out, with Maggie finding a possible life partner, and everyone ending up more-or-less happy, is best left for the reader to discover. The cast of characters is fabulous, the writing brilliant, the story quirky with just the perfect number of twists.
W.P. Kinsella (Books in Canada) -- Books in Canada
Top Customer Reviews
These criticisms aside, the main theme of the story is solid. Living life to the full and making a difference rather than floating along with the flow was convincing and thought provoking. I had not heard of this author prior to reading this book and would be interested in reading more from Anne Giardini.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I finished it today. I want to know if Maggie achieved happiness? Did she die when the magazine quiz predicted she would? What happened to that part of the story? It's almost like someone at the book binding company took two unrelated books and bound them together to see if anyone would notice.
There are too many little tangents that don't go anywhere in this book. The scenes are described beautifully, but most of them could have been stripped away and it wouldn't have made a difference.