Alice Hartley’s Happiness by Philippa Gregory
From the copious volumes of Gregory’s books on this blog, I don’t think it would be a surprise for anyone to know that she is easily one of my favourite authors. This particular book always caught my eye for it’s enticing cover – a woman in a corset on a beautiful red background. whilst waiting for my boyfriends train to arrive whilst in Newcastle over summer, I curled myself into a chair in waterstones and devoured the first couple of chapters (it’s a slight book) and was hooked. Unfortunately it wasn’t until many months later when I bought the book and read it.
Alice is in a loveless marriage – her husband has taken an interest in a painfully younger (borderline pedophillic… I don’t care if that isn’t a word) and has lost all interest in Alice in her mature and slightly unusual earthy needs and is determined to have her committed for her ‘crazy’ behaviour. I don’t think I need to stipulate that there is nothing mad about Alice – she’s eccentric but has lost her patience with her blithering husband who clearly just wants rid of her so he can shag and shackle a younger woman. But after an argument where her husband resorts to sleeping pills a young man named Michael arrives at her door to borrow some furniture for a play, Alice has a burst of strength and a chance at freedom – she packs all the furniture she can manage into the van he has brought and the whizz off to his meagre university halls room. After an evening of passionate love-making an opportunity for freedom flops into Alice’s lap; Michael’s aunt has died and he has inherited the house – a chance for Alice to practice her own brand of healing, a growth centre for those exhausted and tired out with boring, passionless lives.
This book was fantastic – disappointingly small but nevertheless fantastic. Impossible to put down, Alice’s enthusiasm is infectious. Her desire to heal people is heart-warming – it is simply impossible to dislike Alice with her hearty love of Mother Earth and positive nature. Although some of the things she does are startling she is a wonderful woman to have at the centre of a novel (a novel that is in part mainly just one big orgy) and especially a woman I can imagine many women can relate with ie being usurped by a younger woman, being an older women in her prime with her own exotic needs and desires nevertheless overlooked and marginalised by society.
In some ways this novels was similar to another one of her works that breaks away from her historical novels – The Little House was infuriating. Brilliant but infuriating. You can’t help but want the very best for Alice and though I won’t disclose details, when things turn sour, you feel for Alice, you feel her frustration. Gregory is VERY good at invoking extreme emotions in her readers. Read this novel, it’s a delight to read and full of Gregory’s usual charm, wit and wonderful perspective of the world.