The departure of a family’s wayward only son, Michele, who has fled from Italy to England to escape the dangers and threats of his radical political ties, sets off this Italian novel originally published in 1973. Michele's mother writes letters to him, nagging him; as does Mara, his former lover, who gave birth to a child who could be his. Left to clean up Michele’s mess, his family and friends complain and commiserate, attempting to cope in the only ways that they know how.
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.