Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Shelf Life Of Happiness by David Machado

The Shelf Life Of Happiness by David Machado
First published as Indice Medio de Felicidade in Portuguese in Portugal by Publicacoes Don Quixote in 2013. English language translation by Hillary Locke published in America by AmazonCrossing in 2016.

Featured in 5Books1Theme: Road Trip and WorldReads: Portugal

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ripped apart by Portugal’s financial crisis, Daniel’s family is struggling to adjust to circumstances beyond their control. His wife and children move out to live with family hours away, but Daniel believes against all odds that he will find a job and everything will return to normal.

Even as he loses his home, suffers severe damage to his car, and finds himself living in his old, abandoned office building, Daniel fights the realization that things have changed. He’s unable to see what remains among the rubble—friendship, his family’s love, and people’s deep desire to connect. If Daniel can let go of the past and find his true self, he just might save not only himself but also everyone that really matters to him.

I don't have much experience of Portuguese fiction, but the books I have read all seem to have a dystopian viewpoint and The Shelf Life Of Happiness fits right into that genre despite its present day setting. Perhaps its cover art doesn't really fit with the storyline because, although a road trip in a worn out minibus is part of the tale, the main narrative is of a man being reduced to homelessness and almost to destitution as a result of the crumbling Portuguese economy. It's a preview of how much of Britain will look after a few more Conservative years, those areas that aren't already wrecked anyway!

Daniel isn't an easy character to sympathise with but I found myself liking his bloody-minded refusal to give up hope. Even as his dream life falls apart around his ears, he still has hope for his own future and that of his family. The Shelf Life Of Happiness title is actually a mistranslation of the original Portuguese title which references an Index of Average Happiness (nations ranked by the average professed happiness of their people) and I couldn't see why this was changed for the English language edition. The Index is an interesting (and presumably genuine) list which, along with Daniel and his friends, got me to thinking about how I would score my life (pretty high, I think!)

For a book ostensibly about happiness, this is a pretty dark read. One character is trapped in his home by chronic agoraphobia, another spends his leisure time assaulting homeless men, the horrors of factory farming are reduced to a cute computer app, and Daniel himself is struggling to stay financially afloat. Yet, despite all this misery, Machado lifts his tale with black humour and an engaging writing style that I enjoyed reading. I was surprised that I wasn't depressed by the book at all!

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  1. Hmm, this one sounds really interesting to me. I haven't read many books set in Portugal and this one is even translated - and a lot of the books I've been reading lately are translated ones. It also discusses things about the way economy and everything is working in the country, while bringing in a character we can connect to too. I like the sound of this one!

    1. It was one I took a chance on and then felt rewarded by the novel. Quirky and an entertaining read