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State of Happiness follows the story of Cindy, a New York mapmaker and writer, who falls in love with Jack, an Englishman in New York, who she meets through her friend Kelly. Cindy is enjoying some success from the publication of her thesis and is a minor celebrity, as well as teaching on the side. Jack is a newsmaker. An unlikely pairing that surprises them both. Aside from mapping her own life, Cindy begins to map her life with Jack and finds it to her liking.
Cindy suffers an unexpected health scare, a sudden collapse whilst teaching. At the time nothing was found and Cindy and Jack continue their life together as normal. A minor bump in the road, that's all.
Then Jack is offered a job in California. Cindy, a New York natural, has some questions about following, but after some soul searching and sage advice from her friend Kelly, decides to take this new fork in the road and follow him out there. After a short period of disappointment she, and Jack, begin to settle into their new life together. Cindy embarks on a project she'd been thinking about for some time, exploring the link between memory and maps, personal maps. Then one night she wakes to a pain in her chest and a new knowledge that the truly undiscovered country is the one we carry around with us, that the map of ourselves is inside us and as out of our control as the country around us.
After such a lovely start we then follow Cindy and Jack on their new path, a journey with terminal illness. An uplifting story, this is not. Poignant, sad (I actually cried when Cindy told her friend Kelly that she was dying) and written in a starkly unsentimental way, State of Happiness forces us to face the reality of what it means to lose the battle for life. Working with a subject which could all too easily becoming cloying, over emotional, sentimental, cliché ridden, Duffy manages to bring both clinical examination and raw emotion into the mix. Juxtaposing Cindy's scientific, slightly obsessive mapping techniques and the stripped-painful reality of facing the uncertainty of facing a future which offers only pain and death, if anything, heightens the emption of the story, stripping it raw.
It's not an easy read, and it certainly wasn't what I was expecting (never judge a book by its cover, my son sagely reminded me) but it is an excellent book. Painful, certainly, but also enlightening and perhaps just exactly what I needed to read. Because as Cindy marches on her journey towards her end we are reminded that we are all on that journey but, unlike Cindy, we just don't know it, or perhaps recognise it. And we should, wherever we can, live for the moment and enjoy what we have because the future is uncertain and unknown and we never really know how long we have or how our story, the map of our lives, will end.
Also posted in my blog Bii's books: http://biis-books.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/state-of-happiness-by-stella-duffy.html
I read this on aeroplane and wish I hadn't - I cried! I had to sniffle away quietly at one or two places in order to not attract any attention. It is such a moving book and one I came across completely by chance. This is the first book I've read by Stella Duffy, although I do own another one and I am really looking forward to reading that.
In the beginning, the characters don't seem real, quite one dimensional. Suddenly, they become very different and I can't put my finger on what it was but I became hooked. That could well have been due to the fact that I was a captive auidence to a certain extent as I had nothing else to do for my two and a half hour flight.
It is difficult to discuss the plot without revealing what happens throughout the novel but the journey the characters go on is special. I couldn't recommend this book enough. It is touching but in such a way that it isn't wishy washy, it's quite a stark reality actually. Beautifully written, it packs a punch and holds nothing back.