David Machado’s “The Shelf Life of Happiness” (affiliate link) isn’t an uplifting book. But what can you expect from a novel born out of the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis?
The story follows Daniel, a husband to Marta and father to Flor and Mateus. Daniel’s lost his job in Lisbon, Portugal. Marta and the kids moved in with her parents in another town.
Daniel’s separated from his family. He’s losing hope in his job search. And he’s running out of money.
Daniel tells the story from his first-person point-of-view. He’s speaking to his childhood friend Almodôvar. Almodôvar is in jail. This leaves Almodôvar’s wife and teenage son trying to survive the recession gripping Portugal.
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Before we meet them, Daniel, Almodôvar, and another childhood friend, Xavier, started a website. The website connects people needing help with those willing to help. Unfortunately, few people use the website.
But when someone does use the website to ask for help, the stage is set for the story’s climax.
Before we reach this point in the book, though, we bounce with Daniel from one setback to another. He’s trying to fill the hole left in Almodôvar’s family by his friend’s imprisonment. And he’s trying to help Xavier, who’s depressed. All this while Daniel works to save his own family and find work.
Xavier introduces to Daniel the idea of measuring your own happiness. Daniel and other characters throughout the book become obsessed with quantifying their happiness.
First written in Portuguese, “The Shelf Life of Happiness” (affiliate link) is a translated work. Hillary Locke provided the translation.
Book review of “the shelf life of happiness”
Most of “The Shelf Life of Happiness” feels like a slow burn of sadness.
Not much is going right with any of the characters. They’re all unwilling victims to the recession wrecking Portugal. Each character is struggling in their own way. They seem incapable of pulling themselves out of their individual tailspins.
I spent most of the time reading this book waiting for a crumb of positivity. Something good has to happen, I kept thinking. There is a ray of light, albeit faint, if you stick with the novel.
Unfortunately, for me, the payoff was too little, too late to change my opinion of “The Shelf Life of Happiness.” This book is bleak.
Much of the book is Daniel recapping for Almodôvar how bad things have become for those they know. Each story Daniel tells Almodôvar is like a wave of sadness washing over you.
On a positive note, it’s interesting seeing the financial crisis’ impacts in another country. It’s an important perspective to consider. And we all would do well to work more translated works into our reading lists.
The storytelling itself is fine. A lack of experience reading translated novels gives me caution in critiquing the writing. I’ll only say I found little fault in the book’s composition.
Still, beware should you embark upon “The Shelf Life of Happiness” (affiliate link). You may want to do so in a sunlit room with an antidepressant handy.
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