This is Happiness: Comic and nostalgic sweep of rural Irish life

Review: Niall Williams’s novel delivers us back into a world with fewer problems than modern age

Niall Williams: lifts local life into significance through the value he places on the everyday

Niall Williams: lifts local life into significance through the value he places on the everyday

Niall Williams’s coming-of-age novel, This is Happiness, is leisurely, nostalgic, and sweeping in its attention to oral culture, folk stories and local tradition. The narrator, Noel “Noe” Crowe, is 78, and tells the story from across a great gulf of time. Aged 17, he has arrived from Dublin to the small town of Faha, out west, where the rain has been constant for as long as anybody can remember, and the people are eccentric, existing in a world outside of the regulated time of modernity.

In Faha, where he is staying with his grandparents, Doady and Ganga, he meets an older man, Christy McMahon, a kindly and somewhat troubled figure whose history is spun into the narrative, breaking through into Noe’s life, and showing him how to live. Many will catch the echo in the novel’s Christy McMahon with JM Synge’s Christy Mahon, the hero of The Playboy of the Western World, but the characters and their worlds are very different. The degenerate, half-savage world of Synge’s play is replaced in This is Happiness (as the title would suggest) with a much rosier vision of the west. Whereas Synge’s Christy Mahon enters the stage with an unsavoury history, and plays it up, finally enacting an atrocity and receiving a brutal backlash, Williams’s Christy McMahon enters with a difficult past and tries, over the course of the novel, to atone.

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