The Pursuit Of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy

18 Feb 2017

You're probably thinking one of two things right now. It's either, "Wow Olivia, you only posted about a book the other day and now you're doing another one!" - trust me, I know, but this one is really worth talking about - or "Isn't that that film?" - despite the name, it's totally unrelated. I was invited to join the book club at work, and the book for January was this. I took one look at it and thought "This is definitely not going to be for me." But you know what they say... never judge a book by it's cover. I absolutely loved this book and I managed to read it (over 600 pages) in just over a week. If you like "chick lit", you'll absolutely love this, but if not, don't be put off. It's full of twists that are a bit far-fetched, but make it a real page turner that's kind of impossible to put down. I was unable to go along to the book club meeting as I was ridiculously poorly, so I'm gonna say all I had to say in this post. It has a 4.5/5 rating on Goodreads, so that's got to count for something!

Manhattan, Thanksgiving Eve, 1945. 
The war was over, and Eric Smythe's party was in full swing. All his clever Greenwich Village friends were there. So too was his sister Sara -- an independent, canny young woman, starting to make her way in the big city. And then in walked a gatecrasher, Jack Malone -- a U. S. Army journalist just back from a defeated Germany, and a man whose world-view did not tally with that of Eric and his friends. Set amidst the dynamic optimism of postwar New York and the subsequent nightmare of the McCarthy witch-hunts, The Pursuit of Happiness is a great tragic love story; a tale of divided loyalties, decisive moral choices, and the random workings of destiny.

The blurb does explain the plot pretty well, but I'll give you my spin on it. As always, this is a spoiler-free zone, so I'll be very brief. It begins by following Kate as she attends her mother's funeral where she notices a strange woman that she has never seen before. She ends up meeting this woman, who tells her the story of her life and how she came to know Jack Malone, Kate's father. It hasn't been easy for her though, so the story is packed full of tragic moments, crazy twists and raw emotion.

While my summary of the plot does make this book sound extremely dramatic (which it kind of is), it still manages to keep a sense of reality. While it is a little bit unbelievable, there was definitely a part of me that thought "this could actually happen" whilst reading. All of the things that happen in the book are probably happening all around the world as I type this - apart from maybe the HUMONGOUS twist, but I won't go into that, you'll have to read it for yourself. 
I'll be very honest with you, I struggled to connect with the characters, which is bizarre considering how much I enjoyed it. I'd have to say that the one I liked most was Eric. I'd actually go so far as to say that he was my favourite up until he 'made it', then I just started to feel frustrated with him. I really didn't like Jack, and I'm not sure that we were meant to. There were definitely moments where I thought that Douglas Kennedy was trying to make me like him, but all I could think about was how much of a smarmy git he is. I would absolutely love to know if any of you liked him as a character, because seriously, he got on my nerves so much! I thought he was pretty villainous and not well-suited to Sara at all. Sara is another person that really ground my gears, even though I'm pretty certain she was supposed to be out fave. I found her to be fickle, indecisive and just a little lost in life, and while these aren't characteristics that I look for in a leading lady, it definitely made the reading very interesting. I found myself just wanting the best for her, despite wanting to give her a shake, so maybe that shows that my frustration was really just a product of caring.

That being said, I couldn't help but think "oh my god, I kind of relate to this." I know that all human beings are individual, but I found that Kennedy was amazing at writing the female characters, so much so that I found myself relating to them at times. I'm not just on about Sara's fickleness or frequent lack of direction, there were so many aspects of the women in the book that made me think "that is so me!" I'd almost go as far as to say that this book is written entirely in a female voice, in my opinion, and it works perfectly. I'm not sure if this was intended, but that's certainly how it looks to me.

So far, I don't feel like I've sold the book very well, so let me just say that the writing is beautiful. Kennedy has managed to capture the complexity of humans and the twists of their lives so well, and it really is a joy to read. Please don't be put off by how long it is - it's only that way because of the amount of detail that has been included. The plot is well thought through, with every loose end being tied up neatly, and it's ideal for the types of people that like a very black-and-white, 'this happened then this happened' type of story. There's nothing abstract about it, so if you're someone that likes to read between the lines, definitely give my previous book post a read!

If you're interested in post-war 40s New York, perceptions on homosexuality, journalism, female leads, melodrama, massive plot twists and sisters that are doing it for themselves, you'll seriously love this book. It was gripping, heartfelt and just downright amazing. (Trigger warning: this book contains instances of miscarriage, so please, please be wary.)

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