Review By Kris Vyas-Myall
Sometimes there are works that are beautiful in style. Sometimes there are works with great character and depth. Sometimes there are works that I think about regularly long after I have finished them. It is rare to find one that is all of these but it comes in the form of H(A)PPY.
I cannot recall entirely what I heard about this book (although I feel book is too small a term for what it is attempting to do) but something intrigued me enough that I knew I had to seek it out even months after I became aware of it. And I was not disappointed.
For whilst it is a narrative prose novel, it also acts as a literary experiment, and a multimedia piece, and a meditation on art whilst being art in itself. And yet what really impressed me was both how it was not something that I could see working in any other medium but also being totally readable and understandable. I never had any question of what was going on but would go back over passages to just swim in their beauty.
Another element of the style which flows into the next part was the narrative from Mira A’s perspective, which was something I felt very close to (I don’t know if this was Barker’s intent but who cares for authorial intent). The way she thinks very much reflects my own in many ways: the double think, the multiple voices, the points where my brain just gets stuck or the words won’t come. Even the use of colour I understood the meaning of better than 100 words of explanation on emotion, when I am asked what I am feeling I can better characterise via a colour chart than any terms.
It should not be said though that this is all in the style. The narrative is also intriguing. This dystopia is one in the very original sense – the society built to be perfect but inherently rotten. So we see how this society should be allowing people to be their happiest but in doing so it is stifling them and stopping them from being who they need to be.
I wanted to address the sections about Barrios which I take as an important point of mirroring. Barrios’ works were inspired by the work of others but through craft she was creating something which inspired others and is still beautiful. Just as Mira A creates her own which then becomes her own liberation. For me I did not want the world to be out or see others’ perspective as to do so would be to make it a much more pedestrian novel. The subjective lived experience of Mira A in this environment is what makes it beautiful and gives it the substance and flavour.
Now this book I can understand will not be to everyone’s taste but Mira’s experience is something I feel is worth everyone going through. Maybe it will resonate with you as it did with me. Perhaps it will not. But then, isn’t that the point of art?