The voice is instantly, almost violently recognizable—aloof, amused and melancholy. The metaphors are sparse and ordinary; the language plain, but every word load-bearing. Short sentences detonate into scenes of shocking cruelty. Even in middling translations, it is a style that cannot be subsumed; Natalia Ginzburg can only sound like herself ... The families...are petri dishes of fizzing dysfunction ... Happiness, as Such...reveals...Ginzburg’s natural sympathy and wit ... few writers make as liberal and effective use of the first-person-plural narration ... The war is...the weather in her work, the foundation on which her stories are based—the randomness, confusion, lack of resolution or explanation. And above all, her skepticism of happiness—and her passion for writing about it.
...this largely epistolary novel recounts the fortunes of an Italian family over the course of a year. Their many letters to one another—charming, hesitant, smothering, futile, untoward—are the rich and wonderfully evasive stuff of a family’s hopes and afflictions, its duplicities, its gossipy, convivial bustle. The disclosures afforded by such a form—the way time telescopes in a phrase or tone—grant each page a stifling intimacy ... Their voices are pungent and earthy ... Like the creations of Chekhov or Mavis Gallant, Ginzburg’s characters believe in themselves to such an extraordinary degree that we cannot help but do the same. Their sense of life, the wonderfully aggrieved fullness of their complaints, the unpredictable actions they take on their own behalf, their energy and canny self-interest, grant them a surplus of reality. This is Ginzburg’s rare genius: that the finely filigreed idiosyncrasies of her characters suggest something much broader, a human—and deeply humane—nature, in which they exalt. The new translation of Happiness, as Such makes the English language one masterpiece richer.
...rich ... The web of connections between private and public life, between the intellectual and the emotional and the political, is delicately visible, only occasionally breaking the surface—an effect typical even of Ginzburg’s more autobiographical work ... Despite Ginzburg’s wry observational humor, the mood grows increasingly melancholy. Happiness is fleeting and only recognizable in retrospect, if it exists at all.
... Ginzburg had mastered her method and was complementing the sharp, glittering edifice of her prose with buried seams of humor and pathos ... Letters proved to be an ideal medium for Ginzburg, a flexible, associative form that can shift from brutal frankness to longing in a matter of sentences, and which are symptomatic both of isolation and tenuous connection.
Published in Italy in 1973 and appearing in English for the first time, it’s primarily a series of letters between the estranged son and his friends and family back home. If that sounds uneventful, rest assured it’s just as compelling as The Dry Heart. Ginzburg’s sentences are deceptively simple, often no longer than a single clause.
Wars, deaths, suffering women, families and their discontents: These are Ginzburg’s abiding themes. But she approaches them with a stoic reticence. Her books seem all the more profound for what they leave out ... the story feels fully realized in moments when characters have to reckon with their feelings in unexpected ways ... the political stakes are significantly less, but the underlying pain and anguish feel just as dire. The story may not be real, but the problems are ... [Ginzburg] she’d rather employ an array of first-person accounts—through the letters—to arrive at a consensus on reality, than maintain an authorial distance. This also means the writer must become each of her characters in turn—mother, murderer, husband, friend—and allow them their chance to speak.
...vigorous, witty, and spirited ... Rather than the brutal but restrained throttle of The Dry Heart, this is a warmer, comic, polyglossic novel of letters and dialogue. Unfolding in perspective, it engages multiple voices, returning to the pleasure of dialogue and absurdities of familial glue ...[an] investment in dialect and the vernacular returns, here, as songs hummed and whistled and snatches of sayings half-recalled snake their way through its pages ... Between generational differences, genealogical secrets, former and secret lovers, and the desires and limitations related to real and aspirational social milieux, Ginzburg seems to suggest that in the sphere of the family there is always more to tell, and differently. In Happiness, as Such, there is a more robust family saga that might be found between what the characters do and, more importantly, do not, say[.]
She is an original, no doubt, and partly by virtue of her sharpness, the peculiarly direct and needlelike precision of her prose ... The way Ginzburg uses the resources of language is all her own. There’s no metaphoric flourish, no manipulation of tempo and syntax to create excitement; there is simply the juxtaposition of conflicting feeling in simple statements that miraculously add up rather than confuse ... Was this loss and unimaginable suffering the fire from which the author emerged with such a passion for truth? Perhaps so, but it’s the rare writer who, over a long career, never loses sight of this aim.
Adriana’s letters can be passive-aggressive and self-aggrandizing, but at the same time, Ginzburg has made her—and all the others—into a nuanced, sympathetic character ... As a whole, the novel speaks to Ginzburg’s remarkable range as a writer: She could and did write deeply moving works about the Second World War, which she survived, but she could also write comically. Beneath the currents of humor and wit is a subtle work of insight and feeling ... Another masterpiece from one of the finest postwar Italian writers.
... magnificent ... a riveting story about how even when a family drifts apart, the bonds of blood relations supercede the deepest disagreements. It’s also proof that Ginzburg is an absolute master of the family novel. Like Lucia Berlin and Clarice Lispector, Ginzburg may finally receive the recognition she so richly deserves.