May is the month of spring. Of lilacs and sunshine and country walks – and that’s what makes Eva Woods ‘How to be Happy’ such a perfect choice.
It isn’t what you might expect though – terminal cancer, early-onset Alzheimer’s and SID’s don’t usually make great sunny day reading (although it is also the time of year for shades so puffy eyes can at least be hidden). Based on the social media challenge ‘100 days of happy’, the book introduces us to a cast of characters all struggling with their own secrets and failings and trying to make it through the day.
Annie feels she has nothing to live for. A miserable job at a soulless council office, a damp flat in a London high-rise, a failed marriage and a lost life. Top that with her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s and her flatmates’ relentless need to trash the place, there were very few sunny days on the horizon.
Enter Polly. Likeable, colourful, fun and successful – and dying, quickly. She sees Annie as something of a death project – if she can make her live again, life may well still have some hope, even as hers ends.
Annie feels she has nothing to live for. A miserable job at a soulless council office, a damp flat in a London high-rise, a failed marriage and a lost life.
The characters are pleasingly three dimensional. Polly is not short for Pollyanna, she’s a real woman with her own sadness and Annie isn’t just a maudlin grump. The book runs with political undertones around the abuse and neglect of the NHS which all sounds miserable but just makes it far more identifiable.
Somehow, in a manner reminiscent of Marian Keyes, Woods manages to take her subject matter and make it genuinely life-affirming. Not in an ‘insta-quote’ way, but in a ‘could be any of us’ way. You’ll finish it determined to make today a good day – and every other after that too!